Iowa guard Isaiah Moss says his 19-point burst did remind him of former teammate Peter Jok Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The best performance of Isaiah Moss’s Iowa basketball career was sparked by an extended stay on the bench in his previous game. And a message from his coach, Fran McCaffery, about the need to hustle every second he's on the court.
Moss carried that thought into Wednesday’s game at Minnesota, and came out determined to be aggressive. He scored Iowa’s first basket, the only one the team had to show for its first nine minutes of atrocious play at Williams Arena.
Moss scored another four points late in the first half as the Hawkeyes inched within striking distance. He registered the first bucket of the second half.
Then Moss unleashed an incredible 19-point flurry in the game’s final 96 seconds to nearly help the Hawkeyes pull off a stunner before falling 86-82.
His 32 points were a career-high. After, Moss said it would be reasonable for fans to start expecting this kind of output from him.
“(It) just gives me confidence, knowing I can play like this. Just try to play like this every game,” he said.
McCaffery was dismayed to see Moss half-heartedly chase a loose ball in the second half of Iowa’s Saturday home loss to Indiana. He pulled his sophomore shooting guard from that game and sat him for the final 16 minutes. Moss watched the Hawkeyes fall 84-82. McCaffery impressed upon him afterward that his lackadaisical play may have spelled the difference between winning and losing such a close contest.
It's a lesson that McCaffery has been trying to impart to Moss for two seasons — keep playing hard even if you miss a shot or two. He wants the mild-mannered Moss to develop more of an edge, to take out his frustrations on the opposing team instead of retreating under duress.
“If I see my first shot not go in, I hesitate too much,” Moss admitted. “But I don’t think I lack confidence.”
Nor does McCaffery lack confidence in the Chicago native. He wants that to be clear.
“You have a guy who’s a legitimate 6-foot-5. He can get to the rim. He’s got a pullup game. He’s got a 3-point game. And he’s quick,” McCaffery said. “All I ever do is encourage him to go — curl cuts, back cuts, in transition take it yourself. I don’t ever have him questioning whether it’s a good shot or a bad shot. ‘You go get buckets. That’s what you do.’”
That’s what Moss did Wednesday. But it’s not always what he does. He was averaging 10.6 points entering play, with eight games this season in which he’s scored five or fewer.
Then came his 96 seconds of excellence, a stretch of play reminiscent of the kind of runs that Peter Jok would go on for Iowa last season. Moss said Jok was an inspiration.
“He did that a lot, all the time,” Moss said. “I used to watch him and say, ‘Wow.’ It was amazing.”
That’s what Moss wants people to say about him, too. And not for just one night.
Bohannon takes a back seat
Unfortunately for Iowa, Moss’s running mate in the backcourt also had a once-in-a-season performance. Jordan Bohannon failed to score for the first time, attempting a mere two shots, one of them a desperation heave as time expired in the first half.
Bohannon was so ineffective that he found himself on the bench for much of the game, playing just 21 minutes, a season-low in Big Ten Conference play.
“Coach is going to put out the best five players that he thinks is going to win. And obviously he didn’t think I was one of them,” Bohannon said. “I’m just not going to get down on myself, just keep working.”
Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon admits he wasn’t one of his team’s five best players against Minnesota
Bohannon, Iowa’s second-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game, had two bad early turnovers Wednesday and was unable to do anything to impede Minnesota senior Nate Mason.
McCaffery refused to criticize his sophomore point guard afterward, pointing to Bohannon’s better play in the second half and the six assists he registered.
But McCaffery’s response when asked why he gave Maishe Dailey 28 minutes of court time was telling.
“I thought he played well on both ends. You’ve got some guards on that team who are a handful to guard,” McCaffery said. “I thought he did a better job than anyone else on (Mason).”
McCaffery went to a man-to-man defense that featured Dailey and Moss in the backcourt. Dailey finished with four points and six assists.
“Maishe was playing better than me, so he deserved to play,” Bohannon said. “I just didn’t really get anything in the flow, or wasn’t able to get any good looks.”
Bohannon spent much of his time on the bench with a towel over his head and a blank expression. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back for Iowa’s final regular-season game, at home Sunday vs. Northwestern.
Kriener puts on a show
Iowa reserve forward Ryan Kriener had reason to play to the crowd at Williams Arena. It consisted of several of his relatives.
Kriener’s mother, Nancy, has family from the Minneapolis area, former Gophers fans who now cheer for the Hawkeyes. Kriener knew exactly where they were located among the 11,732.
Iowa forward Ryan Kriener on his motivation of playing in front of family members
And he gave them plenty of reason to cheer in the second half. Kriener scored a career-high 15 points, all in the final 11 minutes of the game as he aggressively called for the ball in the post and then launched a sequence of fadeaway jumpers that the Gophers had trouble contesting.
“Just saw the first one go in and my confidence went higher,” said Kriener, who hadn’t scored more than six points in any previous game this season.
“I liked that I really provided a spark off the bench. I take pride in always playing as hard as I can.”
Kriener missed six games this season after suffering a pair of concussions. His best moment had come during the Hawkeyes’ rally from a 20-point deficit to win at Illinois on Jan. 11. He was superb in the second half of that game as well.
“The thing I love about him is, he came in, he missed a shot. In the second half, he missed another shot. But he’s going to keep shooting. He doesn’t have anything at all resembling tentative in his game,” McCaffery said of Kriener. “I think that’s why he has a chance to be really special.”
Kriener agreed that Wednesday was his best game of the season, being sure to add the caveat, “so far.”
As for his Minnesota relatives, the sophomore from Spirit Lake said:
“They all were Gophers fans until I committed (to Iowa). It was hard to get them to switch over. We got them some Hawkeye gear. Now they cheer for us.”
Long and grinding road
The Hawkeyes went 1-10 in road games, getting embarrassed in many of those losses. Wednesday marked the continuation of a tough pattern for the downtrodden team. The Hawkeyes appeared to be in a stupor at the outset of the game and quickly fell behind 22-2.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Kriener said, echoing the comments of several of his teammates. “You always want to say that you’re ready to come out and fight. We were a little flat, and that can’t happen at this level.”
It happened time and again to Iowa this season, and that is something that clearly needs to change next year. Winning on the road in the Big Ten is tough. It takes a tough-minded team to do so. The Hawkeyes are not yet at that level.
Freshman center Luka Garza, who averaged 10 points in road games, said he got better playing in unfamiliar gyms as the season wore on. But he admitted his team has a long way to go to be competitive away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I just got acclimated to the environments and the crowds we were seeing,” Garza said. “It’s unfortunate as a team we weren’t able to do as well on the road.
“Because it’s big for your momentum, coming back home after you get a road win. After that Illinois win, we all felt really good. And I just wish we could have got a couple more. But that’s something we’re going to think about for the rest of the year until we’re back in this position again.”