Iowa's Tyler Cook relishes another key low-post matchup in Michigan State's Nick Ward
EAST LANSING, Mich. — No one could miss the big smile and wide eyes of Tyler Cook as he backpedaled down the court Friday, clapping his hands and making sure Wisconsin center Ethan Happ knew that he’d just been scored over.
Cook, Iowa’s junior power forward, got his first double-double of the season in that 72-66 loss, producing 19 points, 15 rebounds and even four assists, leading the Hawkeyes in each category. Happ fouled out with 13 points and seven rebounds, his poorest performance of the season.
Cook gets another big challenge at 5:30 p.m. Monday when the No. 15 Hawkeyes (6-1, 0-1 Big Ten Conference) play their first true road game of the season at No. 8 Michigan State on FS1. The Spartans (6-2, 1-0) feature 6-foot-8 junior center Nick Ward, who averages 14.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
“That guy plays hard. He’s a big dude. Motor’s crazy. So another matchup I’m looking forward to,” Cook said after Friday’s game.
“As a competitor, you live for these kinds of matchups, especially if we’re talking one on one.”
Cook, at 6-9, is leading Iowa with 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He and Ward both weigh 250 pounds.
The last time they met, Ward helped his team get the victory, 96-93 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Cook held the statistical edge, with 26 points to Ward’s 17.
The Spartans have won 11 of their past 13 meetings with Iowa.
Cook will have to be at his best if the Hawkeyes are to alter that trend. He’s capable of carrying a team now — and his coach senses it.
“He's much more under control. He has great speed — for a guy that big — phenomenal speed and quickness,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Cook.
“(He) used to just use his athletic power and beat you in the post and dunk the ball. He's figured out how to do it off the dribble, how to do it coast to coast, how to recognize, ‘OK, I thought there was space and there was no space, move it.’ Don't just … spin in traffic and knock three guys over. His decision-making is really good now.”
Cook does have 21 turnovers against 18 assists, numbers he’s still trying to reverse. But he’s committed only 13 fouls while getting to the free-throw line 52 times.
Those foul numbers are key because Iowa is down to three healthy low-post players. Sophomore center Luka Garza (6-11) and junior reserve Ryan Kriener (6-9) are the others.
It’s imperative that none get into foul trouble, and that’s where Michigan State will test the Hawkeye frontcourt. Garza picked up four fouls against Wisconsin, the only time this season he’s reached that number, and made a key mistake late when he let Happ get to the rim rather than risk fouling out.
McCaffery said he hasn’t spoken to his big men about the topic of fouls.
“They’re both pretty good at sliding their feet with their hands up and not picking up inadvertent fouls,” he said of Cook and Garza.
Kriener said he’s aware, though, of how vital it is to keep himself available for as much action as is needed.
“You can’t be as aggressive as you were defensively, going after all the shots,” he said. “You can’t have two bigs in foul trouble because that’s going to be detrimental to what we’re trying to do.”
What Iowa is trying to do is rebound quickly from its first loss of the season.
“We’re 6-1. We’re in a great position,” Cook said. “And we have a great opportunity coming up on Monday to get a great road win and get us back on track.”