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Tyler Cook is finding some consistency in his freshman basketball season at Iowa.
That consistency is bringing increased playing time.
And those extra minutes are allowing Cook to show the dynamic plays that fans have expected all along. An example? His three-dunk night in Tuesday’s overtime victory over Indiana.
“I have seen tremendous growth in him over the last three weeks,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said Friday of Cook.
The numbers bear that out. Cook has scored in double figures in six of the past seven games, while seeing more court time. On Tuesday, he played 31 minutes and produced 14 points and five rebounds.
The 6-foot-9 forward will look to continue that trend at 5 p.m. Saturday when Iowa (15-13, 7-8 Big Ten Conference) looks for an upset at No. 24 Maryland (22-6, 10-5). The game will be televised on ESPN2.
McCaffery said most people have been judging Cook based on points scored. Cook ranks second on the team in that category at 11.8 per game.
But McCaffery looks much deeper, and has been impressed by what he’s seen.
“I look at his complete game. Is he running the floor? How’s his defense? Does he understand what he’s doing if we’re running sets vs. motion? Does he understand what we’re trying to do in transition?” McCaffery said of Cook.
“Is he communicating with his teammates out there? Then you have to factor in doing all of that stuff and then having the ability to just kind of play in a relaxed way, to think about going and do what you’re supposed to do, what you’re capable of doing. I think I’ve seen tremendous growth in that whole process for him. That’s because he’s smart and he’s a worker and he wants to be great.”
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Greatness has been the expectation all along for Cook, the most highly regarded of Iowa’s five true freshmen. The St. Louis native was ranked the 87th-best recruit in the class of 2016 by ESPN and chose Iowa over offers that included Kansas, Virginia, Purdue and Iowa State. McCaffery told reporters before the season that Cook has the highest ceiling of any player he’s recruited in his seven seasons at Iowa.
Cook put up 24 points in his third collegiate game, a home loss to Seton Hall. Playing with a broken finger, he muscled up 17 points against Memphis. Then he sat out seven games to let that heal. By the time he returned, his first Big Ten slate awaited him, and the results were mixed, including a six-game stretch in which Cook averaged only 18.7 minutes per game.
Tuesday’s game marked just the fourth time this season that Cook has played 30 or more minutes. The Hawkeyes have won three of them.
In Iowa’s first meeting with Maryland — an 84-76 home loss Jan. 19 — Cook made the most of his 20 minutes. He scored eight points but grabbed six of Iowa’s 20 offensive rebounds. The Hawkeyes shot a mere 35.7 percent that night, but hoarding the boards allowed them to score 19 second-chance points and stay in the game.
Cook, averaging 4.5 rebounds per game, will be called on to help Iowa repeat that stat, especially if the shots aren’t falling on the road again. The Hawkeyes have made only 40 percent of their field goals as visitors in Big Ten play. Maryland is limiting opponents to 31.9 percent shooting from the 3-point arc, second in the conference.
“You’ve got to hang in. You’ve got to fight,” McCaffery said of the first Maryland game. “Every game is different and you’ve got to be able to figure it out. It’s great if you’re shooting well, but if you’re not, you’d better go back and get some misses.”