Iowa takeaways: Offense stagnates, turnovers pile up, 3-point defense is lacking, Pemsl's optimism
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The motion offense that the Iowa men’s basketball team wants to run was decidedly stationary for much of the first half of Saturday’s 77-73 loss to Penn State.
There were times when sophomore forward Tyler Cook looked like a one-man show, with four teammates watching to see what he would do.
Cook was good. But that’s no way to win basketball games, and he knows it.
“A lot of times when I caught the ball on the block or off the block, they had four or five guys in the lane waiting for me. So it’s tough,” said Cook, who finished with a game-high 23 points with four assists, but also five turnovers. “We’ve just got to make sure that we’re moving off the ball and my guys know that if I get the ball and someone’s open, I’m going to get it to you.
"I’m not a black hole.”
The gameplan for the Hawkeyes was to pound the ball inside, Cook said. Iowa did end up with a 42-26 advantage in points in the paint. But the Hawkeyes also shot just 4-for-12 from the 3-point arc, not nearly the balance they want. The inside-outside offense too often became all of the former and none of the latter.
“We’ve got to do a better job of moving off the ball, moving without the ball, screening for other guys, making basket cuts and stuff like that. Just creating offense for ourselves without the basketball will really help us in that area,” Cook said.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery acknowledged the difficulty of reining in a team that turned the ball over 18 times without taking away all of its aggressiveness, which happened far too often Saturday.
“You want them to be in attack mode. We always say, 'You can't play nuts,'” McCaffery said.
Cook and shooting guard Isaiah Moss attempted 13 shots apiece as Iowa made a respectable 50.9 percent from the field. But no one else attempted more than seven. There just wasn’t enough balance or ball movement, two things Iowa relies on.
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About those turnovers ...
Cook took exception with the officiating on some of his turnovers. He disputed a couple of traveling calls, in particular.
“I’m going to keep playing the way I play,” he vowed.
Moss, who scored 13 points, also had four turnovers, including a charging call late that wiped out a fast-break opportunity. The Hawkeyes had talked about Penn State’s penchant for drawing charges, which made Moss’s play even more disappointing.
“You know they're going to set up shop, so you've got to go around them or you've got to jump-stop,” McCaffery said. “I thought Isaiah got a little tentative after he committed the charge, and we need him to continue to be aggressive. He's got to put that behind him and keep shooting the ball, because we need him to do that.”
Moss disagreed that he got tentative, but he did blame himself for failing to recognize the Nittany Lions defender sliding into his path.
“I watched film, (I knew) they were going to do that,” Moss said. “That was just a mistake on my part.”
Moss felt the turnovers were a result of Hawkeye players getting sped up.
“I think we were moving too fast. Everyone wants to make a play,” Moss said.
The arc was open
Penn State made 12 of its 23 3-pointers for its best showing of the season and Iowa’s worst defensive effort at the arc.
Guards Shep Garner and Tony Carr each went 4-for-6, and McCaffery said Iowa knew they could do that. But the Hawkeyes also had to respect the drive. It put the defense in a tough spot.
“You want to close out their space, but know that they are capable, all three of them, of going off the dribble,” McCaffery said, also referencing guard Josh Reaves. “But our closeouts were not good enough, you know, and that's unfortunate. Because even if they go and score, it's only two and not three.”
Moss thought it was the “help-the-helper defense” that was lacking for Iowa.
“We have too many mental breakdowns, I think, including myself,” Moss said.
McCaffery's coaching approach
Iowa is now 4-4 after losing four of its past five games. McCaffery said he needs to challenge his players to be better without robbing them of their spirit.
“I think you have to be honest. You know, I think you have to challenge them. But I don't think you can beat them up. I definitely don't think you can point fingers. You start playing the blame game and then don't take any responsibility for yourself, that's me — then I think you lose the locker room,” McCaffery said.
“They know if they didn't play well. They know if they made mistakes. So, you might point it out, you might show it to them, but then you've got to move on. You can't just keep beating the same kid up for the same one mistake he made. Hopefully he won't make that mistake moving forward.”
Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl, who scored 10 points off the bench Tuesday, said the team is close to getting the swagger it needs.
“As much as people want to focus on our losses and whatever negatives in a game, we’re doing a lot of good things. We just need to fine-tune some of the little things,” Pemsl said. “We had 18 turnovers, missed eight free throws, let them have 12 3s and we lost by four points. So I think there are a lot of things that we are doing well, but the things that we are doing negatively we have to cut down on.”
Cook missed four of the free throws, going 9-of-13. He took the blame for that.
“I missed some free throws down the stretch that I can’t miss. My guys need me to come through in that situation, so I’ve got to be better in that standpoint,” Cook said.