IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men’s basketball team has played 95 minutes in a pair of white-knuckle games in the past week.
Christian Williams, who began the season as the Hawkeyes’ starting point guard, was on the court for only 15 of them. He had two assists and zero points.
So, as Iowa (9-7, 1-2 Big Ten Conference) prepares to host Rutgers (11-5, 0-3) at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, it’s fair to ask: Who is the backup to freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon?
In last Sunday’s overtime victory over Michigan, Williams was limited by a back injury, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. He played 8 minutes in that game but frequently went in and out of the locker room for treatment.
But in Thursday’s double-overtime loss at Nebraska, the injury wasn’t an issue for Williams, McCaffery said in a Friday teleconference. Williams played 5 minutes in the first half and made two aggressive drives to the basket but couldn’t convert either. He played only 2 of the game’s final 30 minutes, missing an open look at a 3-pointer along the way.
“His back was fine,” McCaffery said. “I just went with the other guys.”
When it comes to initiating offense when Bohannon needs a rest, the other guys for Iowa have included star shooting guard Peter Jok and his backup, Brady Ellingson.
“It don’t matter. I can play 1, 2, 3. Whatever coach wants me to play,” Jok said after scoring 34 points in the 93-90 heartbreaker at Nebraska. “I think he’d like me to play 2 or 3, just so I could score more and not have to bring the ball down the court.
“To be honest, point guard’s hard work. It’s a hard job. You’ve got to be in great shape. But yeah, I love being involved in the point-guard spot.”
McCaffery is comfortable with Jok taking on that role, although he, too, is worried about fatigue. McCaffery pointed to a pass that Jok made midway through the overtime period against Michigan as emblematic of what he’d like to see from his lone senior.
On that play, Jok received a pass and had a brief opening for a shot. Instead, he waited, started dribbling to the basket, drew three Wolverine defenders and hit a cutting Nicholas Baer for a runner in the lane instead.
“I think it’s going to be the key for our team. I think it’s going to be the key for him as he gets evaluated for the next level. Everybody knows he’s got as good of a jumpshot as there is in college basketball, certainly that I’ve ever coached,” McCaffery said of Jok. “His ability to understand how to be a screener, how to be a facilitator, how to create a shot for somebody else.
“To me, that (pass to Baer) was a big play in the game and a big play for our team. Because that just makes it that much more difficult for teams preparing for us now, knowing that Pete is going to make that kind of play on a consistent basis.”
Jok finished with three assists against Michigan, but only one (against five turnovers) at Nebraska.
Ellingson, a sophomore with a reputation for long-range shooting, also has been called on recently to initiate Iowa’s offense. In 32 minutes over the past two games, Ellingson has contributed six points, two assists and only one turnover.
“He’s just really smart. He’s a good ball-handler, he knows what you want done,” McCaffery said of Ellingson. “He can get the ball from Point A to Point B but can he actually run your offense if you call a set play? Does he know where to ride up? Does he know when to go? Does he know where the other people are?
“And he just knows that stuff. So I’m very comfortable with him there.”