Iowa takeaways: Why did Cook sit? Three starters contribute little, defense has holes

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Tyler Cook leads the Iowa men’s basketball team in scoring and rebounding.

The sophomore forward played only 14 minutes in Monday’s 77-64 loss to Indiana at Assembly Hall. That tied Cook with Nicholas Baer for the least time on the court among the 10 core players coach Fran McCaffery used.

It wasn’t because of ineffectiveness, although Cook did commit three turnovers. He also had nine points and five rebounds in his 14 minutes.

Indiana's Collin Hartman drives to the basket between Iowa's Tyler Cook (right) and Nicholas Baer on Monday. Cook and Baer each played only 14 minutes as the Hawkeyes lost for the fifth time in six games.

It had to do with fouls, and McCaffery’s belief that a player should not be allowed to pick up three of them in the opening half of play. Cook was whistled for his second foul with 8:54 remaining in the first half and the Hawkeyes leading 19-17. Indiana didn’t go on an immediate run — there was a 3-minute lull in scoring after Cook went to the bench — but the Hoosiers eventually seized control with a 14-0 scoring burst.

McCaffery said he did think about reinserting Cook at that time.

“I just didn’t want him to be hamstrung for the last 20 minutes,” McCaffery said. “Now you look back and say I probably should have. If he picks up his third (foul) there, in the second half, it’s too physical of a game, he wouldn’t give us anything in the second half.”

Cook did get a third foul 5:13 into the second half, after the Hawkeyes had cut the Hoosier lead to 48-44. He sat for 2 minutes, played 3 more and then never reappeared.

Cook averages 14.6 points and 7 rebounds in 25.3 minutes per game. He also leads the Hawkeyes with 60 free-throw attempts, although he had zero Monday. Iowa got to the line only nine times to Indiana’s 23.

Cook finished with three fouls, but his minutes played would suggest he fouled out. It was a curious decision on a night when McCaffery struggled to find a group of players who could play effectively together.

Starters take a seat

Cook wasn’t the only starter who saw a diminished role for Iowa on Monday. Guards Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss, along with center Luka Garza, began the second half on the bench because of uninspired play in the first half.

Iowa committed 13 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, six of them by Bohannon and Moss. Those three starters were a combined 1-of-9 from the field.

Baer, Maishe Dailey and Brady Ellingson started the second half instead and gave the Hawkeyes their best stretch of play of the game.

Dailey and Ellingson combined for eight assists and no turnovers. Dailey had all four of his assists in the second half, while Ellingson scored 12 of his game-high 16 points after intermission.

“They were moving the ball a lot better. At the beginning, we were not moving the ball at all. We were trying to do it all on our own,” McCaffery said of his reserve guards. “You can’t do that. You’ve got to move it. You’ve got to screen. You’ve got to get it swung. You’ve got to go in and out. And we did that in the second half. That’s why we got back into the game.”

Bohannon re-entered the game after Cook picked up his third foul. Moss got back in with 8:59 remaining. Garza didn’t reappear until 6:03 was left. It was a message from McCaffery that those three players — who average 33.3 points among them — weren’t helping the cause Monday as Iowa (4-5, 0-2 Big Ten Conference) lost for the fifth time in six games.

Dailey said he was given clear marching orders when told he would be starting the second half.

“Just play with more fight,” he said. “I think we let them hit us first. I think we play a lot differently once we get hit first. I think we need to come out, we need to be aggressors.”

Dailey, a sophomore, showed that he can be a viable option at backup point guard. McCaffery said he will consider him in that role going forward. Ellingson, a junior who hadn’t scored a point in his previous five games, had by far his best showing of the season, making 6-of-9 shots to keep the Hawkeyes close for a while.

Bohannon finished with seven points, four assists and five turnovers in a game-high 29 minutes. Moss put up two points in his 17 minutes — the second time in the past three games he’s been held to that total. Garza scored all six of his points late in the second half.

Throw in a three-point effort from Baer and a mere two points and two rebounds from reserve forward Cordell Pemsl, and Iowa had five key players not providing much production. There’s no way the Hawkeyes can win when that happens, no matter how well Dailey and Ellingson play.

Freshman in a funk

For Garza, a 6-foot-11 freshman who has been starting all season, Monday was the continuation of a bumpy orientation to major-college basketball. He also sat out most of the second half of Saturday’s home loss to Penn State while Pemsl provided a solid outing off the bench.

His late flurry Monday came with the game already out of reach, but did provide some encouragement for McCaffery.

“I thought we did a better job of getting him the ball. He was open a couple of times in the post. Our post feeds were not good. So let’s reward the guy for working hard and posting up and we throw it in there, he’ll score,” McCaffery said of Garza’s three late layups.

“The game was a little fast for him tonight. They went three smalls. They were running a lot so he’s in transition a lot, so that’s not easy for him. But he can play that way.”

Lost on defense

The Hawkeyes played a lot of zone defense Monday, and the Hoosiers had little trouble finding holes. Indiana (5-4, 1-1) shot only 40.9 percent for the game, but missed several open looks, particularly from the 3-point arc. Iowa often failed to identify shooters on the perimeter and inexplicably let Indiana players loose for uncontested layups as well.

“You can’t let people behind you in zone. You’ve got to know the guys are back there,” McCaffery said. “You’ve got to be able to recognize what they’re doing and at least contest. We’re leaving guys open in zone.”

Bohannon said it came down to the Hawkeyes being out of sync.

“We weren’t communicating on the front line. We weren’t communicating on the back line. One pass in the high post just led to a layup or a kickout to the shooters in the corner,” Bohannon said. “We’re just not locking into our defensive principles like we did later in the season last year or like we did in the summer.”

Nunge's homecoming

Iowa freshman Jack Nunge got his second career start Monday, in front of more family and friends than he could count. The 6-11 forward played high school basketball at Castle in Newburgh, Ind. His coach and several former teammates drove up to watch him. Many other former classmates are students at Indiana.

“It was pretty sweet,” Nunge said of getting the start after fielding numerous ticket requests.

Nunge made it sweeter by sinking the opening 3-pointer of each half. He finished with 12 points and a team-high six rebounds in 26 minutes. He was one of the bright spots for Iowa, and was on the court for the 16-2 run that opened the second half and briefly gave the Hawkeyes hope.

“We went back to the scouting report that coach gave to us and we just brought a lot of energy,” Nunge said of that sequence. “We knew we were down. We had to make a move and so we just tried to do our best and hustle and try to get runouts and use our defense to lead to our offense.”

McCaffery praised Nunge afterward.

“The only thing really right now that’s holding him back is his strength,” McCaffery said. “His basketball demeanor is incredibly mature and sophisticated.”