Iowa takeaways: On a showdown with first-place Ohio State, Cook's dominance, Nunge's disappearance, Bohannon's empty half
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men’s basketball team has fallen to last place in the Big Ten Conference standings and the players know there are no guarantees that things will get better.
“It’s going to take everyone from the locker room to turn this thing around,” sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon said after Tuesday’s 75-68 loss to Michigan dropped the Hawkeyes to 0-3 in the Big Ten.
Next up is a 6 p.m. Thursday meeting with Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (ESPNU). That gives the Hawkeyes one day to address the mistakes made against the Wolverines but also little time to dwell on how far they’ve fallen. Iowa went 10-8 in Big Ten play a year ago.
Ohio State (11-4, 2-0 Big Ten) hasn’t played since beating Miami on Saturday and is in a surprising three-way tie for first in the conference with Michigan State and Purdue. The Buckeyes beat Michigan last month.
Bohannon said the Hawkeyes can take some encouragement from what happened last season, when a 3-5 start in league play began to turn around with a home game against Ohio State. Iowa went 7-3 in its final 10 Big Ten games starting with that victory.
“We made a run last year so we’ll look back at that,” he said.
But the words coming from the Hawkeyes after Tuesday’s loss, which snapped a five-game winning streak and left Iowa with a 9-7 record, were essentially the same ones heard during the stretch when the team lost six of seven.
“Our energy wasn’t there,” forward Tyler Cook said after scoring a game-high 28 points.
Iowa fell behind by 18 points in the first half against Michigan and never recovered.
“We weren’t focused on the game plan. We had all the information in front of us and we didn’t come out and execute the way we should have,” Cook added.
“We’ve got to be more locked in in terms of who we’re guarding. … We can’t wait till the second half to turn it on. We’ve done that a few times this year. It hasn’t worked for us.”
The Wolverines scorched Iowa with 8-of-11 3-point shooting to open the game as Iowa defenders seemed uncertain about their assignments.
“There’s just so much going on in the game at certain points it’s hard to distinguish between two guys on the outside of the 3-point arc, which one’s the shooter. You just have to think really fast,” Bohannon said. “That just comes with a lot of practice. We did a really good job of that in the five-game winning streak.”
If that all sounds familiar, it should. It’s been the story of Iowa’s season so far, one that is in danger of becoming irretrievably lost if a Big Ten win doesn’t arrive soon. That’s what made Tuesday’s game the biggest of the season to date.
And now the same can be said for Thursday.
Cook puts on a show
“Tyler Cook is just an extraordinary talent,” Michigan coach John Beilein said in his opening remarks to reporters Tuesday.
Beilein later added: “That show by Tyler Cook today was unbelievable.”
Yes it was. And it was the one thing the Hawkeyes had going for them.
Cook opened the scoring by dribbling past Wolverines forward Moritz Wagner for a dunk and never let up, making 10-of-15 field goals and 8-of-11 free throws in 34 wearying minutes. He added eight defensive rebounds to lead all players in that category as well.
“I just wanted to affect the game offensively. l Just wanted to make sure I was aggressive,” Cook said. “There was nothing too complicated about it. I. was just trying to score the ball.”
On the flip side, Hawkeye freshman Jack Nunge started the game by misfiring on a pair of open 3-point attempts and then sat on the bench for most of the rest of the game.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery started Luka Garza in Nunge’s place in the second half and didn’t put Nunge back in until 9 seconds remained. Nunge then got his lone basket for the final points of the game.
“He didn’t play in the first half, I didn’t think, with the kind of swag that he needs to if you want to play in a game like this. He missed a couple 3s. I thought he hung his head. They were good shots. I told him, ‘Take five more,’” McCaffery said of Nunge.
“I want him to shoot those 3s, but he can’t miss two 3s and have that affect everything else he does on the floor. And he’s just a young kid that’s going to learn. He’s a really good player and he’ll get a shot on Thursday.”
Bohannon has quiet second half
Bohannon was the focal point of Michigan’s defensive effort, Beilein said. That was because Iowa’s 6-foot point guard had scored 17 points against the Wolverines last Jan. 1 in the Hawkeyes’ overtime victory at Carver-Hawkeye.
In the first half Tuesday, Bohannon made three 3-pointers, added two assists and three rebounds in 19 minutes of play.
In the second half, he didn’t score until the final minute, added one more assist and one more rebound and was barely a factor while the Hawkeyes twice pulled within seven points.
“It was pretty frustrating because we would hit a shot and they would come right back at us,” Bohannon said. “But that’s Big Ten play. You need to be locked in on every possession, because every possession really matters at this point of the season.”
Bohannon blamed himself for Iowa’s offensive struggles.
“It starts with me. I need to have a lot more energy coming into the game and make my shots and try to get a lot more assists,” he said. “I don’t think I got my team going like they should have been going.”
Trouble staying in front
Michigan hurt Iowa with dribble penetration. When the Hawkeyes collapsed on the ball-handler, he would inevitably find an open teammate at the 3-point arc.
McCaffery admitted that his team’s ability to stay in front of opposing guards is a concern.
“I think we have the ability to do that. I think mixing defenses will help us,” McCaffery said.
He pointed to Maishe Dailey, Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner and Bohannon as players who can prevent dribble penetration.
“I think we’ll be OK,” McCaffery concluded.
Bohannon said Tuesday’s problem stemmed from Iowa being too eager to double-team dribblers and leaving shooters open in the corners. That ran counter to the scouting report.
“I was fake helping on some guys I shouldn’t have been helping on,” he said.
It’s an issue that won’t go away for Iowa. Other Big Ten teams will certainly follow Michigan’s lead and put pressure on the Hawkeye defense to protect its rim while not straying off of perimeter shooters.