Iowa takeaways: A Buckeye player gets under Hawkeyes' skin, deep rotation provides little payback, who is the leader?

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Of course, Nicholas Baer heard it when Ohio State guard Kam Williams drained yet another shot Thursday, then turned to the Iowa bench and let them know how easy it was to score on the Hawkeyes.

All of a hushed Carver-Hawkeye Arena could hear it. It was hard to argue Williams’ point. But that didn’t mean the Hawkeyes were happy to have their lax defense thrown in their face by an opposing player.

“Any time you hear that as a competitor, that’s going to fuel you a little bit,” Baer said after Iowa lost 92-81 to fall to 0-4 in Big Ten Conference play. “We were able to come out and play a lot better. I think that did galvanize us a little bit, especially when a player comes in and says that on your home floor. That’s not going to sit well.”

Ohio State's Kam Williams celebrates a basket during the Buckeyes' game against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

Williams’ brash words were the lowlight of another ineffective Iowa defensive effort. The Buckeye senior finished with 13 points. Ohio State shot 53 percent from the field. The 92 points were the most the Hawkeyes have allowed this year.

Iowa sophomore forward Tyler Cook was on the bench for Williams’ impromptu outburst. He was not amused.

“He did get some open shots,” Cook conceded. “But the way I was raised, the people I grew up around, that never flies with us. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

Iowa’s next chance to let its defensive play speak for itself comes at 7 p.m. Sunday at Maryland. If it doesn’t get better, the Hawkeyes will no doubt have to hear more yapping.

Many play, few score

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery stuck with an 11-player rotation Thursday and didn’t get much production from five of them. It’s been an issue throughout the season that he never knows what he’s going to get from certain Hawkeyes night in and night out.

On Thursday, Cordell Pemsl, Ahmad Wagner, Jack Nunge, Ryan Kriener and Brady Ellingson combined to play 59 minutes off the bench. That quintet provided a mere four points. Players can bring value beyond just scoring, of course, but for a team playing from behind all night, it was startling to see long stretches of a lineup that lacked offensive punch.

McCaffery explained his thought process for substituting players, noting it is not pre-scripted: “It all depends on who is tired. Who on the other team is hurting us. Are we making a defensive sub or an offensive sub? And who deserves an opportunity right now.”

Some of those deemed deserving of an opportunity in the past may not find themselves in the mix going forward.

In search of Alpha male

Who is the leader of the Iowa basketball team? It was a question posed to McCaffery and some of his players after the team dropped to 9-8 on the season.

McCaffery pointed to the absence of last year’s senior star Peter Jok as a big dropoff, particularly away from the court.

“Pete was as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever been around. It was infectious in the locker room, in practice …  in the offseason,” McCaffery said. “If his teammates weren’t coming with him, he was going to let them know about it. And sometimes you need that. It can’t always be me or my staff. It’s got to be ‘that guy’.”

PREVIOUSLY:Peter Jok talks pro challenge, Hawkeye struggles

McCaffery said Devyn Marble, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff were similar players on past Hawkeye teams. He said Cook is the most likely to pick up that mantle.

“I think TC has that ability. Right now, he’s still a young player,” McCaffery said.

Freshman center Luka Garza added Baer and Jordan Bohannon as other vocal leaders, but also said that burden falls on all players.

“There’s not one guy I could say that’s like our confident leader. We have a lot of guys that can step up and talk in the moments when everything’s going down. We need to do that more. Any player can do that,” Garza said.

“When things were going good (Thursday), we did a good job of that. But when they started to go bad, I think we were kind of discombobulated as a team.”

The fact that leadership is a topic at all, of course, is usually a sign of a team that is struggling to find success.

Challenge for Cook

Cook had 28 points and eight rebounds in Tuesday’s 75-68 loss against Michigan. Those statistics led all players on both teams.

McCaffery wanted more, and let Cook know about it after that game, pointedly asking his star: How could you have zero offensive rebounds?

On Thursday, Cook responded with 21 points and nine rebounds. Six of those were offensive. The Hawkeyes grabbed 15 offensive boards in all and turned them into 24 points. It was the one clear statistical edge they held over Ohio State.

“I’m challenging him to be great,” McCaffery said of Cook. “’Yeah, you were really good, but we lost. If you were great, maybe we win.’

“So he comes back and gets six offensive rebounds. That’s a big step in my view. That shows you the kind of character that he has and the capability of being great.”

McCaffery also challenged Cook after Iowa dropped its first two games in November’s Cayman Islands Classic. He scored 29 points and the Hawkeyes won their final game in that tournament.

Challenges accepted.

Baer runs 'til he can't

Baer, a hard-working junior forward, continues to run to the point of exhaustion. And he has no plans to change that approach, he said.

There was one second-half sequence that showed McCaffery needs to be quicker to give Baer the hook when he starts putting his hands on his hips and panting for breaths.

Iowa trailed 65-54 and Baer was clearly laboring. Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate no doubt noticed that too on an ensuing possession, driving right around a flat-footed Baer for a layup and drawing a late, half-hearted foul from Baer. Tate made the free throw as Baer walked wearily to the bench.

“All of his mistakes, if you go back and look at film, were a result of fatigue,” McCaffery said of Baer, who fouled out with 10 points in 24 minutes. “As long as he’s feeling good, he’s making plays, he’s running back, he’s challenging defensively. If he doesn’t get back and he fouls a guy, he was shot; I had a guy at the table ready to take him out. The one move he made, he was shot, and he just has to move it, and he understands that.”

Baer, who reeled off five quick points to help keep Iowa in the game earlier in the second half, acknowledged that fatigue continues to catch up with him at times.

“I’ve been trying to work on that a lot,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to try to play with a high energy that I play with.

“You can only play the game one way. I’m going to continue to play it how I play it. It’s been effective at times. Obviously, I need to continue to get in better shape, but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”