The Iowa coach reacts to a 78-64 victory as his team improved to 5-5.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa is just a .500 basketball team, but that 5-5 record needs to be viewed as half-full, not half-empty.
That’s all because of who the Hawkeyes beat Thursday — No. 25 Iowa State — and how they did it. Iowa, with three freshmen in its starting lineup, revved out to a big lead and kept its foot on the throttle throughout for a 78-64 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The defense was active, the shooting was accurate, the contributions came from across the lineup.
Was this a turning point for a team that had failed to finish off its previous four big-time opponents? The Hawkeyes get eight days to ponder that question, playing next on Dec. 17 against Northern Iowa in Des Moines.
But coach Fran McCaffery is hopeful.
“I think it will have a lot of impact, because we played a really tough schedule so far, and we lost to some really good teams. (Thursday), we played a good team and won,” McCaffery said.
“It was a great performance in so many different ways, but it was not perfect, and I think that's the important thing to know and understand. Because when we did miss a shot or turn it over, we went back and played defense and got a stop. We didn't let it — because this team is a team that can really go on a run on you; that's kind of what they do, you know, all of a sudden it's a 15-2 run and you can only take so many timeouts — but we never let them do that to us.”
More coverage of the Hawkeyes' 78-64 win over No. 25 Iowa State:
- Peterson: It's simple — the Cyclones just plain stunk at Iowa
- Leistikow: Peter Jok gets the Cy-Hawk finish he wanted
- Iowa youngsters help Jok down Iowa State
Iowa got 23 points from Peter Jok, 14 from Isaiah Moss, 11 from Cordell Pemsl and 10 from Nicholas Baer. They also outrebounded the Cyclones 42-39, outscored them in the paint 28-24 and attempted 24 free throws to Iowa State’s nine.
Those are signs of an aggressive team — something the Hawkeyes haven’t always been.
The freshmen in particular took a big step, and they sensed it immediately.
“We had these games where we do really well for 30 minutes out of 40, but we have these breakdowns, mentally and physically,” rookie point guard Jordan Bohannon said. “As we move forward, we know what we’re capable of doing now. We’ve got to keep working.”
Moss on a mission
The late game will be remembered for Moss’s no-hesitation drives to the basket. The redshirt freshman was not going to be denied, scoring seven of his points in the final 4:35 to keep the Cyclones at bay.
After, the wing player said he doesn’t even consider driving to be his strong suit.
“I think I’m a better shooter, actually,” he said after going 1-of-4 from the 3-point arc. “I didn’t shoot as well as I usually do.”
McCaffery loved the way Moss attacked the rim late, drawing fouls on two of his three down-the-court sprints.
“We put him in that position of running our press attack. We get him out there, get him flying, look down the floor, throw it to him,” McCaffery said. “He's a great finisher, and he has great confidence in his ability, and he gets there quickly. He is fast and quick, and he's explosive.”
Nicholas Baer’s performance off the bench should not be overlooked. Ahmad Wagner was given Baer’s place in the starting lineup the past two games, and the sophomore took the move as he seems to take everything — in stride.
All Baer did Thursday was jump into the game and reel off five quick first-half points to push Iowa’s lead to 20-12. He also was the only forward on the court late in the game — accompanied by four guards — and kept the hustle going. He had eight rebounds, two steals, a blocked shot and led the Hawkeyes with 6-of-7 free-throw shooting.
And he needed only 17 minutes to do so.
“He needed to go get some rebounds that were really difficult to get but he flies and gets them. We had him fresh because he got in a little foul trouble. He probably would have played more than 17 minutes had he not gotten in foul trouble,” McCaffery said.
“There's just no substitute for all of the things that he gets done for you on the floor in a positive way.”
The lineup switch is paying dividends. Wagner also thrives because of the sheer energy he brings to the court. He had four points and five rebounds — including two big offensive boards in the first half — in 21 minutes. The Wagner-Baer combination gives Iowa a great deal of productivity.
Pemsl draws from the past
The freshman from Dubuque Wahlert had 11 points in Iowa's 78-64 win.
Pemsl, a Dubuque Wahlert graduate, used his games against high school rivals to offer a little perspective, heading into his first in-state college matchup. He said his first two prep seasons were marked by losses to Dubuque Senior and Dubuque Hempstead.
“When I was a freshman and a sophomore, we could never beat Senior. We were always trailing them,” the freshman forward said.
“Going into the game, I realized what that felt like. I just related it back to my high school career. This was my first in-state game against an opponent. I just wanted to go out there and do what I needed to do individually, and I knew that if we all clicked together that we’d get the win.”
The win snapped a three-game skid against the Cyclones.