Leistikow: Chippy, resounding Cy-Hawk win exactly what Iowa needed

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — There’s nothing like a little ongoing in-state tension to spruce up a college basketball rivalry.

And it might have been exactly what the guys in Iowa City needed.

Iowa's 98-84 win against Iowa State on Thursday night began with first-half shoving matches and ended with Hawkeye players heading to the locker room without an organized handshake after one last skirmish between rivals.

Before they even hit the showers, Iowa players took to Twitter to lob barbs toward the Cyclones after this much-needed double-digit win.

"They weak for that," point guard Jordan Bohannon tweeted minutes after the game, "HAWKEYE STATE."

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm grabs Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) after the buzzer of a NCAA Cy-Hawk series men's basketball game on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Iowa State coach Steve Prohm apologized afterward for his involvement in the postgame melee. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was ready to move on, too.

Agree 100 percent. This was a case of two heated rivals going at it. Nothing more to see here.

Except a big Iowa win.

“It was a spirited game from the beginning," McCaffery said. "That’s what you’d expect. I have tremendous respect for Steve Prohm. … I wish it didn’t happen. But it’s competition. We’ll move on.”

Emotions were indeed cranked up and, arguably, so were the early-season stakes — especially for 19th-ranked Iowa, which came into this Cy-Hawk matchup reeling after an embarrassing loss at Michigan State marred by poor defense.

Before-hand, Hawkeyes fans were wondering: Here we go again?

After this resounding victory that displayed toughness and 57.4 percent shooting, fans might be saying: Here we go.

The passion that seemed missing throughout last year's 14-19 disappointing campaign was overflowing Thursday for these 7-2 Hawkeyes.

"Having the quick turnaround against a really good team that we wanted to play, it was huge for us to be able to come out and execute," said Iowa junior Tyler Cook, the most dominant force on the floor with 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting with 11 rebounds. "And get a great win."

Even Cook, a St. Louis native, felt the extra rivalry juice.

"It took me a while to kind of get into it. My first year it didn't really mean much to me," he admitted.

Iowa forward Nicholas Baer (51) tips a ball in during a NCAA Cy-Hawk series men's basketball game on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.


"When you look up in the stands, you see how seriously people take it," Cook said. "I'm embracing it. I'm trying to make myself an Iowan for these kind of games."

Cook was following the lead of six Iowans in McCaffery's 10-man rotation. Including a surprise contributor.

Thought to be out for the season, junior Cordell Pemsl brought the initial spark into Iowa’s lineup. There was a noticeable buzz inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena when it was learned the junior from Dubuque — who had announced he would opt for knee surgery and a medical-hardship waiver — would give it a go against the in-state rivals.

And when push came to shove — literally — Pemsl was, naturally, right in the middle of it.

He gave Iowa State forward Michael Jacobson a two-handed shove after seeing Jacobson and teammate Connor McCaffery jawing during a first-half skirmish with the Hawkeyes leading, 36-26.

No bad blood, Pemsl said afterward. He knew Isaiah Moss (22 points) had gotten shoved, and saw McCaffery and Jacobson mixing it up. Eventually, Prohm arrived, too, to help break it up.

“I’m like, you’re not going to try to walk over two of my teammates," Pemsl said. "So I had to step in.”

Pemsl, McCaffery and Jacobson were tagged with technical fouls.

But it was emblematic of a tenacious first-half edge that Iowa got from Pemsl and McCaffery — the coach's son who grew up in Iowa City and no doubt immersed in the Cy-Hawk emotion. Although neither player hit a bucket as part of Iowa's 45-38 halftime lead (only Pemsl scored, on two free throws), Iowa was plus-12 in points when those two were on the floor.

“This was a game where we needed energy. We couldn’t come out slow," Pemsl said. "The fans were into it. We needed to give them something to cheer for.”

Pemsl would finish with eight points and six rebounds in 15 minutes; McCaffery chipped in 12 points and five assists in 20. 

Two more Iowans brought the heat in the decisive second-half surge.

Joe Wieskamp, a Muscatine native who gutted through a right-ankle injury, made his first bucket of the game to start an overwhelming run that turned Iowa's 49-45 lead into 70-50.

And it was Nicholas Baer, the pride of Bettendorf who was playing in his final Cy-Hawk game as a fifth-year senior, who delivered some of the finishing blows.

He swished three second-half 3-pointers that had Carver-Hawkeye roaring. And when he drew a charge on Marial Shayok — he joined the official in emphatically pointing the other way.

"It's just Iowa vs. Iowa State, that's what it's going to be," said Baer, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. "We knew going into this: it's a rivalry game and emotions were going to be high. Especially when you look at how many Iowa kids we have on our team.

"This is a game where we take a lot of pride in being able to call it a Hawkeye state."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.