Hawkeyes basketball getting little production from wing players

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Life without Peter Jok has been bumpier than expected for the Iowa basketball team.

The Big Ten Conference’s leading scorer a season ago, Jok made 84 3-pointers while connecting at a 38 percent rate.

It turns out there was no one waiting in the wings to replace that production, to help point guard Jordan Bohannon space the floor and let forward Tyler Cook roam inside.

Iowa shooting guard Isaiah Moss, here launching a 3-pointer in last Tuesday's win over Wisconsin, is averaging 11 points per game, but has had six contests in which he scored four or fewer. He has made just three of his last 15 3-point attempts and is being encouraged to shoot more often as the Hawkeyes look for someone to help Jordan Bohannon stretch the floor.

Iowa (11-12, 2-8 Big Ten) has used six players at the wing positions this winter — starters Nicholas Baer and Isaiah Moss, plus Jack Nunge, Maishe Dailey, Brady Ellingson and Ahmad Wagner. They are a combined 104-for-283 from the 3-point arc, a 36.7 percent rate. It’s taken all six to essentially replace what Jok gave Iowa’s offense during a 19-15 season.

“We’re being guarded differently as a team. People are honing in on Jordan and Tyler. It opens up opportunities for other people,” Baer said.

“It gives us a different dimension when we’re able to shoot the ball better, being able to space the floor and give Tyler a little more space to work inside and Jordan some space so guys aren’t pressuring him as much.”

It’s a dimension that has rarely shown up for the Hawkeyes. They’ll get their next chance at a remedy at 8 p.m. Tuesday when Minnesota (14-9, 3-7) visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a game televised by BTN. The Gophers have dropped six of their past seven games.

Iowa could desperately use two of its five wing players (Ellingson is likely out again with a concussion) to keep the Gophers honest. It’s been the biggest weakness of an offense that needs to score 85 points or more to compensate for the league’s worst defense.

Baer has not had the same impact he did last winter, when he averaged 7.5 points and made 40 percent of his 3-pointers. He was voted the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year.

He’s a starter now, but has seen his scoring drop to 6.1 points per game while connecting on a mere 31.6 percent of his 3-pointers. Last year, he was a double-digit scorer 10 times, including one terrific stretch late in the season when he did it in four consecutive games. This year, he’s scored in double figures only four times, and never more than 11 points.

“I’m not shooting as great as I’d like to, obviously,” Baer said. “I’m just going to keep shooting. I’m confident in my shot.”

Moss is averaging 11 points per game to rank third on the team. But it’s anybody’s guess which version of Moss is going to show up on any given night.

The sophomore has scored 15 or more points seven times. He’s scored four or fewer in six games.

“I don't want to bury him,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said when asked how to get more consistency out of Moss. “I want him to continue to be aggressive. I think that's going to be the only way we'll get him out of what he's in right now is to make sure that he knows we haven't given up on him and we have confidence in him, and we want him to keep going.

"We're not trying to pull him back. No, we're trying to get him to go the other way.”

Moss is shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range but has made just three of his past 15.

Nunge made a late 3-pointer in Saturday’s 98-84 loss at Nebraska. But it was just the second one he sank all month. McCaffery said he wants to get the 6-foot-11 freshman into a groove, which is why he played 22 minutes in Lincoln.

Dailey is Iowa’s most accurate 3-point shooter behind Bohannon, at 41.7 percent. But he hasn’t attempted more than two in a game since a Dec. 22 victory over Colorado.

Ellingson shot 47 percent from the arc last year while averaging 4.4 points per game. The junior has taken a step back this year, however, connecting on only 39.5 percent of his 3s and seeing his scoring dip to 3.7 points per game. He will miss a third consecutive game with a concussion suffered in practice last Monday.

Wagner is Iowa’s only other junior, and, like Baer and Ellingson, he hasn’t been as effective as a season ago. Wagner is averaging 1.9 points on 45.7 percent shooting. Last season, those numbers were 4.8 and 51.2.

“We’re not going to give up. We’re not saying the season’s over and that we can’t get better,” Wagner said. “We still believe in ourselves. We believe in our coaching staff. We believe that we can be OK.”

McCaffery’s message to his wing players: Shoot more. He especially wants Dailey and Moss to launch 3-pointers when they get chances.

Bohannon, a 43.3 percent 3-point shooter who is responsible for more than one-third of his team’s makes from the arc, would welcome the help. He hasn’t had nearly as much space this year without Jok playing alongside him.

“That’s something we’ve been talking to Isaiah (about) a little more is to be able to shoot some perimeter shots and get the floor a little more spaced, because we know that he’s capable of doing it. He just needs to be a little more aggressive from the 3-point line,” Bohannon said.

No one ever had to tell Jok that.