Iowa takeaways: Another Big Ten coach praises veteran Hawkeyes

Chad Leistikow
Iowa forward Ahmad Wagner makes a play for the ball during a game against Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The process has been a three-step ritual for Iowa’s visiting coaches this season: They come into Carver-Hawkeye Arena, watch their team get dominated, then lavish praise onto the Hawkeyes.

It’s happened the last five Big Ten Conference games here: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Nebraska’s Tim Miles, Michigan’s John Beilein, Purdue’s Matt Painter and Chris Collins have taken their turns.

All five have another thing in common: None has stayed within 10 points of the Hawkeyes, including Collins’ club in an 85-71 final Sunday that wasn’t really that close.

“Very well-coached. You can tell they have a lot of juniors and seniors out there,” Collins said. “They play well off each other, they’ve grown up together, and … that’s what we’re shooting for with our program. We’ve got a lot of freshmen and sophomores out there that have to learn, they have to figure it out.”

Third-ranked Iowa (17-4 overall, 8-1 Big Ten) improved to 11-0 at home this year and has won 14 straight games at Carver-Hawkeye since a 64-59 loss to Minnesota on Feb. 12. The Hawkeyes are averaging 85 points at home this season with an average margin of victory of 17 points.

“Hopefully by the time we get all juniors and seniors, we can have a team like they do,” Collins said. “They are a very good basketball team, and certainly are going to make major noise for the rest of the season.”

Iowa is back here at 6 p.m. Wednesday as it plays host to Penn State (11-11, 2-7). Iowa’s football team will be honored at halftime, and it’s Fran McCaffery bobble-head night. Tickets are available.

'Pick your poison': Jok, Uthoff lead No. 3 Iowa's bounce-back win

Another spark from Wagner

Jarrod Uthoff returned to his prolific scoring ways Sunday, but it was while the star forward was on the bench that Iowa really took off. Sparked by a lineup that included freshman Ahmad Wagner, the Hawkeyes turned up the defense.

Northwestern threw a strong early punch but scored only eight points in the final 11 minutes, 58 seconds of the first half. The Wildcats were bothered by 1-2-2 full-court pressure defense coming from a lineup of Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, Peter Jok, Wagner and Adam Woodbury.

With that group on the floor, Iowa turned an 18-16 deficit into a 26-18 lead.

“I think that’s the beauty of this team,” McCaffery said. “I was able to rest him and extend the lead, and that’s a beautiful thing because now when he comes back in, he’s fresh. And he impacted the rest of the half.”

Wagner’s scrappiness highlighted the adjustment, as he crashed the offensive boards and had busy hands on defense to get four points, three rebounds and two steals in his five-minute burst.

“I wanted to come in the game and affect the game somehow,” Wagner said, “and happened to be in the right place at the right time on a couple passes.”

Bench learning experience

Iowa’s lead ballooned to 76-47 after a pair of Uthoff free throws with 6:56 remaining. For the most part, McCaffery let his bench take it from there — and Northwestern, led by starter Tre Demps (30 points), charged back against the Hawkeye reserves with a 15-2 run.

McCaffery voiced his displeasure to the backups. Iowa’s lineup in the closing minutes had four freshmen — Christian Williams, Brady Ellingson, Andrew Fleming and Wagner — and sophomore Dom Uhl.

“We were giving up a lot of 3s. Turning the ball over,” Wagner said. “We knew we had it coming. We just weren’t playing the best of our abilities.

“We weren’t playing to win, we were playing to save the score. We’ve got to be more aggressive next time.”

Fleming entered with 3:35 left for his first career minutes in the Big Ten.

Interesting stats

  • Iowa recorded season highs with free throws (28) and free-throw attempts (36), good for 77.8 percent. The Hawkeyes had struggled at the line in their previous two games (combined 27-for-43, 62.8 percent). Northwestern committed 27 fouls to Iowa’s 11.

“That’s a big disparity, and they’re a veteran team,” Collins said. “They’re smart, and they know how to get themselves to the line.”

  • Hawkeye center Adam Woodbury had an effective presence Sunday with nine rebounds, but he went scoreless in 14 minutes. It was the first time the senior’s gone scoreless in 55 games, dating to the 2014 Big Ten Tournament — against Northwestern. Woodbury entered Sunday with three consecutive double-doubles.
  • Iowa had only 10 assists on 25 baskets, barely topping the season-low nine assists at Maryland on Thursday.

“I was (surprised by the low total),” McCaffery said.  “Seemed like whoever was throwing the ball to (Pete) would have had 10 assists.”