Iowa takeaways: The fun is back for Hawkeyes, in Bohannon's flex and Pemsl's dunk

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Cordell Pemsl was closing in on a routine layup Saturday when he decided he might as well turn it into his first career dunk.

Jordan Bohannon powered up a shot through a foul by a Drake defender and then playfully flexed his biceps as he headed to the free-throw line.

It was a fun-loving group of Hawkeyes who turned what was expected to be a tight matchup against the Bulldogs into a 90-64 laugher at Wells Fargo Arena.

No, you're not seeing things. That is Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl dunking against Drake on Saturday. It was the sophomore's first career dunk, and one of the highlights in a carefree 90-64 Hawkeye win.

And why not?

No one was having any fun while Iowa slogged through a three-week stretch that included six losses in seven games earlier this season.

Bohannon, a 6-foot sophomore point guard, seemed particularly tense at times, looking like a player who had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He said he was too fixated on trying to replace the production of graduated star guard Peter Jok.

Bohannon said he’s spent the past two weeks studying film of himself from late in his freshman year, when he was carefree and putting up double-doubles.

“You want to have a little optimism in your life,” Bohannon said.

“With Pete gone, I feel like I probably added too much pressure to myself coming into the season because I felt like I needed to do a lot more. I think some of us could probably say the same thing. When we’re all going and we’re all leaning on each other instead of going one-on-one, we’re a lot better as a team and I think we’re starting to learn that.”

Bohannon exemplified that, with seven of Iowa’s 23 assists against Drake. He also had the most memorable one-on-one move, the one that had his teammates howling.

Midway through the second half, Bohannon went up for a shot in the lane with Drake center Kory Kuenstling clinging to him. That’s an eight-inch height disparity.

Bohannon’s shot went through the net as he hit the floor and he came up doing something none of his teammates had ever seen before.

“Sometimes you’ve got to flex your muscles to get back to having fun,” Bohannon said.

“I’ve known Jordan for over two years now and I’ve never seen him flex, like period, in the weight room, practice, locker room, whatever. He’s strong but he’s not the strongest guy so I wouldn’t necessarily pick Jordan to be the one flexing after an and-one, but he did it and deservingly so because that was a tough play,” muscular Iowa forward Tyler Cook said with a big smile.

“I’m all for it. And future flexes.”

Pemsl gives it a go

Pemsl’s dunk was a highlight that almost never happened. The sophomore forward had missed Iowa’s last game after suffering a gaping cut to his right shin in a Dec. 7 loss at Iowa State.

Pemsl practiced for the first time since the injury Friday, then participated in the team’s walkthrough Saturday morning, thinking he wasn’t going to play against Drake either. An hour before game time, he was still in his suit, Pemsl said.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery asked Pemsl to put his uniform on and be ready “just in case.”

Pemsl said he was surprised to be beckoned into the game early in the first half.

“I wasn’t expecting to go in. I looked at my trainer and we kind of laughed,” Pemsl said. “Once I was in, I was like, ‘All right, let’s just play then.’”

Pemsl played 12 minutes and contributed six points and eight rebounds. He said his leg was a little sore, but nothing he wasn’t expecting. It was wrapped up tight to keep his stitches intact.

“He came through for us. I think he’s really happy about that, that he pushed himself and performed the way he’s capable,” McCaffery said.

And the appearance was not without apprehension.

“My biggest fear was not being able to be myself on the floor while thinking about it,” Pemsl said. “Once I was there, I just was doing what I had to do.”

That included his odd-looking “dunk” in the second half. Pemsl dribbled in unguarded from the left baseline and was about to lay the ball in the basket when he realized he was actually higher off the floor than he thought. The 6-8 forward has long joked that, obviously, he’s able to dunk. He just hadn’t found the need to do it in a game yet.

“I went up expecting to lay it in and then I realized I was high enough so I kind of just turned my hand over,” Pemsl said.

“I’m going to count it (as a dunk). … I’ll watch it back and I’ll let you guys know what I think.”

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Cook is towering presence

Cook is the supreme dunker on the Iowa team, and he had plenty of opportunities Saturday.

McCaffery said that Cook, a 6-9 forward, did what he needed to do against a Drake team that is lacking post players. Cook had a career-high 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting. He was the primary reason the Hawkeyes enjoyed a 52-26 advantage in points in the paint.

But it was far from a perfect game. Cook also committed six turnovers and was called for three quick fouls in the second half, the last of which he vigorously disputed. He may be getting a reputation with officials for doing that, and so he’ll want to be careful to hold his tongue going forward.

Cook has been seeing aggressive double teams in recent games, and the Bulldogs tried the same tactic. The turnovers weren’t all his fault. Iowa’s passes into the post are too often soft or off-target, which allows opponents to get a second defender to Cook faster.

Cook had the perfect explanation for his up-and-down game afterward. There was certainly more good than bad in his performance, and he knows he can’t let a negative play affect his confidence.

“Early in the game, I knew they were going to double me, but I was just trying to make the perfect play. I’m going to make mistakes but my job is to continue to try to minimize those,” Cook said.

“I think my mistakes early were me being aggressive, so I’m not going to stop being aggressive. But I think I need to be able to read things a little bit better and be more careful with the ball.”

McCaffery getting back in shape

Backup point guard Connor McCaffery played nine minutes Saturday and didn’t record a single statistic. That doesn’t mean he didn’t contribute to the win, however.

He kept Iowa’s offense in motion while playing in just his second college game. At 6-foot-5, he bothered Drake’s smaller guards as they tried to initiate their offense.

McCaffery, recovering from mononucleosis, was visibly fatigued again. When his father, Fran, pulled him from the game late in the first half, it was obvious that Connor was relieved to be able to catch his breath. Fran checked on his son on the way to the bench and flashed a quick smile after Connor’s response.

Connor McCaffery’s recovery is “slow,” Fran said after the game.

“He gave us some quality minutes, enabled us to rest J-Bo. I thought he moved the ball. The ball moves really well when he’s in there,” Fran McCaffery said.

“He was sucking wind pretty good. We had to be really careful. You don’t want to leave him out there a possession or two too long.”