Iowa forward Tyler Cook isn't disappointed in Tuesday's game, but he does see room for improvement. Listen in: Mark Emmert, firstname.lastname@example.org
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It has been exactly a month since the Iowa men’s basketball team played a Big Ten Conference game. Or a road contest for that matter.
The last one didn’t go so well, a 90-68 clunker at Michigan State that marked the low point of the season so far for No. 21 Iowa (11-2, 0-2 Big Ten Conference).
On Thursday night in Mackey Arena, the Hawkeyes will get to show how much progress they’ve made since then.
Junior power forward Tyler Cook will be expected to lead the way, as he has most games this season. Sophomore center Luka Garza may not be able to help. The sprained ankle that has kept Garza out of Iowa’s past two games is better, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told reporters, but his availability will depend on how he fared in a Wednesday evening practice.
Waiting for Cook and the Hawkeyes is a Purdue team that is markedly different from the one that reached the Sweet 16 a year ago. Carsen Edwards, named the best shooting guard in the nation as a sophomore last season, is back and still lighting things up. But he doesn’t have as much talent around him. The Boilermakers (8-5, 1-1) have become a perimeter-oriented team in order to feature the 6-foot-1 Edwards, a nervy shooter who is averaging 25.8 points per game.
The first task for Iowa as it seeks its first league win of the season is to contain the often-uncontainable Edwards, who is playing on and off the ball this season in search of ideal matchups.
“He’s bringing it down. He’s coming off screens. (Purdue coach) Matt (Painter) moves him around. He’s a handful,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Edwards. “He can create a shot anytime he wants for himself, and those guys always have your attention.”
Iowa counters with Cook, who is averaging 18.6 points 9.9 rebounds over his last seven games. It is the best stretch of his Hawkeye career. Cook played all 40 minutes of a game for the first time in Saturday’s closer-than-expected 72-67 win over Bryant. He had 19 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
“A lot of guys talk about being great, but he wants to be great. He puts the time in,” McCaffery said of Cook, who hasn’t fouled out of a game this season despite dealing with double-teams on the offensive end of the court and often tangling with the opponent’s best post player on the other.
For Purdue, that could be the 6-8 Evan Boudreaux or the 7-3 Matt Haarms. If Garza can’t play, the pressure for Cook to avoid fouls intensifies.
“A lot of people are in foul trouble because they’re in the wrong place and they arrive late to the action. His sense of where to be, where to go, what to do under any situation is very good,” McCaffery said. “His demeanor and his presence is exactly what we need.”
So is a Big Ten victory. Tipoff is 6 p.m. on BTN.
Hawkeyes wear T-shirts to honor Tyler Trent
In pregame warmups, the Hawkeyes will wear shirts that read: “#TylerStrong.” This is a tribute to Purdue student Tyler Trent, who died at age 20 Tuesday after a public battle with bone cancer. Trent inspired many with his upbeat demeanor.
McCaffery said his players asked to wear the shirts. Trent was a passionate Boilermakers' fan known to attend as many sporting events as possible. Thursday’s game will be the first since his death. It is sure to be an emotional night.
“To think about not only the difficulty, but often cases the pain he was going through. To be so incredibly positive all the time and always have a smile on his face is something we wanted to honor,” McCaffery said.