Leistikow's thoughts from Iowa's loss to Maryland: Terps were better, time to turn page
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — As someone who covered the 2017-18 Iowa basketball season, I’ve seen my share of bad Hawkeye losses on the road.
This wasn’t one of them.
Thursday’s 82-72 defeat to No. 15 Maryland had no resemblance to the shellacking here two years ago. In that game, Iowa actually hit 11 of 21 3-pointers (to Maryland’s 4 of 17) and still lost by a score of 91-73 in a tepid atmosphere with students on break.
This time, the Maryland students created by far the most heated road environment Iowa has faced all year. This time, Iowa’s star player was riddled with foul trouble. This time, a very good team outplayed another very good team that had a bit of an off night.
That's reality on the road in the Big Ten Conference.
“The crazy thing is,” Hawkeye guard CJ Fredrick pointed out, “we could’ve won that game. We gave up some second-chance points late in the game. We ... just seemed like we could never get over the hump.”
The 18th-ranked Hawkeyes are now 15-6 overall, 6-4 in the Big Ten, while Maryland improved to 17-4, 7-3 with its fourth straight win. The Terrapins were a preseason top-10 team and the played like it Thursday. They’re good.
There is no 10-point play in basketball (Iowa’s margin of defeat).
But there was a key 10-point swing.
In my opinion, the game definitively tilted in Maryland’s direction with nine minutes, 15 seconds remaining. The Hawkeyes had survived Luka Garza’s latest foul-trouble absence and cut a nine-point lead to three, at 52-49. And Garza was fouled on a defensive rebound, Maryland’s seventh of the second half. Bonus the rest of the way.
But Garza, whose free-throw stroke had improved of late (29-for-39 in his previous four games), stepped to the line and clanked the front end of a one-and-one. Maryland responded with 10 straight points on its next four possessions for a 62-49 lead.
Ballgame. Maryland's lead was no smaller than seven after that.
“When you go on the road and play a good team,” coach Fran McCaffery said, “you have to play better than we played.”
Joe Wieskamp is becoming the Hawkeyes’ ironman.
He played another 38 minutes Thursday night and logged no less than 34:23 in any of Iowa’s last eight games.
And now, the Hawkeyes have their tightest turnaround of the Big Ten season. Players were still making their way out of the Xfinity Center after 11 p.m. EST, with a trip to the airport and long flight home ahead. Iowa faces first-place Illinois (16-5, 8-2) at noon CST Sunday at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That's three nights of sleep, but just over 60 hours total between games.
“It’s going to be a quick turnaround. Short memory,” the Hawkeyes’ Connor McCaffery said. “We’ve just got to focus on the next monster we’ve got.”
Wieskamp, in particular, is worth watching. His shot was off Thursday. He went 5-for-14 from the floor. But the sophomore reported that he is fine health-wise, a pertinent question considering Iowa is in a stretch of five rugged Big Ten games in 13 days.
“I’m fine. I think playing all through last year really helped,” said Wieskamp, who had 17 points Thursday and is averaging 17.8 a game in league play. “You realize how long the season is and how important it is to take care of your body. It’s something I don’t think you understand until you go through it.”
Hopefully, he’s sharing nutrition and recovery tips with Fredrick, who played another 35 minutes Thursday. Fredrick was only 4-for-12 from the floor. Iowa can’t afford Fredrick to hit the so-called freshman wall.
“Tonight just wasn’t my night. Got good looks,” said Fredrick, who did convert a late four-point play. “They were setting good screens. Good passes. Just weren’t going in for me.”
It was good to see Cordell Pemsl showing some flashes.
For the first time this season, Pemsl led the Hawkeyes in rebounding (with a season-high eight).
The redshirt junior earned a lot of trust from McCaffery, even seeing more court time (15:20) than Ryan Kriener (13:18). He scored four points on two putbacks.
With an eight-man rotation, every player becomes critical. Pemsl got zero action in the second half of Monday’s comeback win against Wisconsin. Iowa needs him to play well, and Thursday was a promising sign.
There’s no point complaining about officiating.
True, Garza probably got a raw deal on a few of his fouls, especially on the illegal screen just 1:59 into the game. He thought some of his fouls were "ticky-tack" calls, and he might have been right. He finished with 21 points in 24:46 of court time.
“I need to be out there,” Garza said, “for our team to be successful.”
But the fact is, calls aren’t going to usually go the road team’s way.
Iowa shot 30 free throws at home to Michigan’s five during the five-game winning streak that was snapped. It shot 32 to Wisconsin’s 11 the other night. Maryland shot 26 free throws (making 23) to Iowa's 17.
Illinois comes to Carver having won seven straight games.
That includes Thursday’s 59-51 home win against Minnesota.
If Iowa wants to contend for its first regular-season title since 1978-79, it’s got to win this one.
KenPom.com projects Iowa to win by four points. Circling back to the beginning of this column, this is a good Iowa team. And even though Thursday’s game went south, these Hawkeyes are going steal a few more games on the road before the regular season is up.
But it’s almost imperative that Iowa goes as close to 10-0 at home in the Big Ten as possible. It’s already 5-0. Illinois represents the toughest remaining home game, at least according to the standings. Nebraska (2-8 Big Ten), Ohio State (3-6), Penn State (5-4) and Purdue (4-6) follow.
“It really doesn’t matter at this point where the game is, because everybody’s playing at such a high level,” Connor McCaffery said. “You’re going to have to go out and beat somebody really good every night.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.