IOWA CITY, Ia. — Despite all that the Iowa basketball team is asking of Tyler Cook this season, the sophomore forward wants an even heavier load.
Cook quotes his brother, Trenton, to explain why.
“How are you going to complain that you have too much on your plate when your goal was to eat?” Cook repeated Friday, with a smiling nod to his 26-year-old sibling.
“I’ve asked for this, and I’ve prepared for this. I’m thankful to be here, thankful to have guys that believe in me, that want me to lead them.”
It’s been a grueling season for Cook and the Hawkeyes, who carry a 12-16 record and a 3-12 Big Ten Conference mark into their penultimate home game, at 1 p.m. Saturday against Indiana (15-12, 8-7). The contest will be shown on ESPN.
Trenton Cook will be in attendance for the first time this season.
He’s hoping to see his “little” brother — Tyler is 6-foot-9, 255 pounds — take over the game. That’s the best path to victory for the Hawkeyes.
An aggressive Cook has been a must for Iowa to be competitive this season. That aggression involves scoring, where he leads the team at 15.2 points per game. That aggression involves rebounding, where his 6.6 per game also are tops for the Hawkeyes.
And maybe most of all, that aggression involves getting to the free-throw line. Cook leads Iowa with 97 made free throws. Only four times has he been held without one this season. The Hawkeyes lost all four games.
“The way that teams play me, when I’m being aggressive, in attack mode, they’re going to put me on the line. I’m able to find other guys as well,” Cook said. “I think me getting to the line is a byproduct of not only me playing well, but us as a team getting good offense.”
Cook and fellow sophomore Jordan Bohannon are the two returning Hawkeye players who have taken a clear step forward this season. Both were on the Big Ten all-freshman team a year ago and have improved their scoring and assist averages. Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey have also done so, but both are playing substantially more minutes than a year ago and have been inconsistent.
Cook said he expected to carry that load, although it hasn’t been easy. Iowa has lost all four Big Ten games when he’s failed to score at least 10 points. He knows things won’t go well without him making a big contribution.
“This is the first year I’ve been the focal point of a team’s offense and other teams' gameplans,” said Cook, a St. Louis native. “I’m happy with the progress that I’ve made in a lot of … areas. But I’m also glad that I have more to learn.”
Cook has been seeing full-court defensive attention in Iowa’s past two losses — at Ohio State and Michigan. He’s been held to 4-for-9 shooting in each, for 18 total points. He said Friday he’s figured out a new plan of attack for Saturday.
Bohannon, meanwhile, didn’t necessarily expect to shoulder such a huge offensive load. The Hawkeyes thought they had enough 3-point shooters to flourish without asking their 6-foot point guard to fire away as much as he did as a freshman.
That hasn’t happened. Bohannon is 46-for-105 (43.8 percent) from the arc in Big Ten games; his teammates are 58-for-169 (34.3). Iowa is 1-7 in Big Ten games in which Bohannon doesn’t make at least four 3-pointers.
He averaged 10.9 points as a rookie; he’s at 13.4 now.
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“That’s something that’s always in my mind. I try to get my open looks when possible,” Bohannon said of his need to stretch the floor in order for Iowa to have success.
“I was just trying to find my happy medium this year, because I didn’t know what games I might score 20 to 30 or some games I might score five to 10 (points). Some games, I probably should have scored much more.”
The first time Iowa played Indiana, Cook didn’t attempt a single free throw and Bohannon went only 2-for-6 from the 3-point line. It’s the only time both Hawkeye mainstays were so limited in the same Big Ten game. The result was predictable: a 77-64 Hoosiers win.
So Bohannon and Cook both know what must change if the outcome is to be different Saturday. Indiana will be just as intent on bottling them up.
Iowa is on a four-game losing streak for the second time this season.
“We haven't gotten too much going in transition. We usually like to get (Cook) some opportunities in transition, and we haven't done that. We hope to get more stops, more consecutive stops, and then maybe try to get some running opportunities to get him the ball quicker, sooner,” McCaffery said.
As for Bohannon, who was held to seven points at Michigan: “They've rotated some guys on him, which is what a lot of people do. I'm sure they'll do the same thing (Saturday),” McCaffery said.
Iowa is 0-5 in Big Ten games when Bohannon doesn’t score at least 10 points.
It’s a sign of how important Bohannon and Cook have become for this team.
It’s also a sign of how infrequently their teammates have been able to pick them up.