Takeaways: Iowa lacked necessary intensity for Big 10 play in opener

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In the fateful first half of Wednesday’s Iowa loss, only Nicholas Baer displayed the intensity needed to compete in the Big Ten Conference.

Especially on the road. Especially against No. 15 Purdue.

Baer scored all seven of his points in the opening 20 minutes, by which time the Boilermakers had blown the game open in an eventual 89-67 victory at Mackey Arena.

Iowa guard Peter Jok (14) and Purdue guard Dakota Mathias (31) watch as the ball flies into the air Wednesday. Jok had only two first-half points and couldn't help his Hawkeyes withstand a withering opening 20 minutes by the Boilermakers in an 89-67 loss.

The rest of the Hawkeyes essentially got out of Purdue’s way and let the host team build a 49-25 halftime lead.

“We can’t have the start like we had,” Iowa guard Peter Jok said after providing a mere two first-half points. “We’re going to have more energy and I think we’ll be ready for them next time.”

Next time arrives in two weeks, a Jan. 12 rematch with the Boilermakers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

In the meantime, here are some takeaways from Iowa’s flop in its Big Ten opener:

Two starters, zero points

At the end of his postgame remarks, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery offered this:

“We have to learn how to play on the road. How do you play on the road against teams of this caliber that aren’t making those same mistakes?”

Iowa had four assists and eight turnovers in the first half. There were long stretches of timidity, but also a few determined drives.

Alas, Isaiah Moss, Christian Williams and Dom Uhl each failed to finish at the rim when they did get there. It was that kind of night.

Moss had no points, rebounds or assists in 18 minutes, a surprisingly ineffective performance from a player who had been scoring in bunches recently.

Ahmad Wagner was another Iowa starter who failed to score and was banished to the bench for much of the game. He did re-emerge late in the contest and came up with a rebound, blocked shot and steal to show for his 13 minutes.

“Ahmad didn’t play with the energy level ... that he normally does,” McCaffery said. “He did in that last stretch when I put him in. He was diving on the floor, made a block.”

As for Moss:

“If Isaiah had made that dunk early maybe that would have settled him down a little bit,” McCaffery said. “A couple of shots that he shouldn’t have shot and then he went maybe when he shouldn’t have gone. But I just want him to be aggressive. I want him to be more aggressive and I thought he did a little bit. He’s just got to get that figured out.”

Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas have a laugh on the bench late against Western Illinois on Dec. 19. Iowa opens Big Ten play against Purdue this week.

Zoning out

Iowa played a great deal of zone defense, intent on plugging up the middle where Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas can destroy opponents.

It didn’t work.

Purdue promptly buried 10 first-half 3-pointers. Of the Boilermakers’ 17 long-range attempts, Hawkeye coaches estimated that 13 of them weren’t contested.

“We wanted to limit their low-post opportunities. They’ve got two really, really formidable problems in the paint,” McCaffery explained. “I thought they really did a good job of moving the ball and making us work. One of the things that was disappointing from our standpoint was when we went to the zone I thought our awareness and our execution and our movement was really bad in the first half. And if you do that, they’re going to make you pay.”

Cook gets his feet under him

Hawkeye freshman forward Tyler Cook had missed the previous seven games with a broken finger, and then was vomiting Monday. McCaffery said he wasn’t sure how much he’d be able to ride his second-leading scorer (13.7 points per game entering play).

Cook came off the bench for the first time this season, picked up three first-half fouls and mishandled a pass that would have resulted in an easy layup. But he scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and started to resemble the player Iowa fans had seen in the first six games. He hasn’t forgotten how to dunk, if anyone was wondering.

“I was kind of anticipating playing him in short spurts. But he was able to play with great energy,” McCaffery said of Cook. “He made a few mistakes but he did some really impressive things and it was great to have him back.”

Iowa forward Tyler Cook dunks in the second half against Purdue on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016.

Cook said his illness was just a 24-hour bug and didn’t affect him Wednesday. He played 22 minutes.

“Physically, I felt good. Not in top shape, but I’ll get there pretty soon,” Cook said.

“I felt a little rushed, too. I missed the last month of basketball. This is a hell of a team to come back against. It felt like I was trying to do too much at first and then finally in the second half I felt a little more comfortable, although I still picked up another foul. I got in my groove a little bit, but obviously it was a little too late to make a big enough impact at that point.”

Jok’s quiet night

The surprise of the evening was Jok’s inability to lift the Hawkeyes out of their early doldrums.

His two first-half points were offset by three turnovers and a lengthy benching by McCaffery, who tried 12 players in the opening 20 minutes to little avail.

“They didn’t do anything different than anyone else as done. They face-guarded him and they worked hard,” McCaffery said of Purdue’s defense on Jok.

Jok scored nine quick points at the beginning of the second half and finished with a team-high 13. But that’s 10 off of his average. In the second half, the teams were content to trade baskets.

“Nobody was really trying to get me open. I had tough shots,” Jok said of the first half. “In the second half, I just came out more aggressive. I was trying to come back and win and the guys could find me. I took it personally, trying to score and bring us back, but it didn’t work out.”