Iowa takeaways: Toxic social-media posts affected Hawkeyes' mindset during rough season

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

NEW YORK — Two young Hawkeyes had shots to be overtime heroes in Thursday’s 77-71 Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan.

An open 3-pointer at the top of the key with 24 seconds left from Luka Garza could’ve tied it. It glanced off the front of the rim.

“It felt great coming off my hands,” the freshman center said. “I hit a couple (3s) earlier. Came off on line. Just a little short.”

Michigan's Zavier Simpson (3) and Duncan Robinson (22) defend against Iowa's Jordan Bohannon during Thursday's overtime game in the Big Ten Tournament.

Then with 13 seconds left after two Michigan missed free throws, sophomore guard Isaiah Moss got a shot from the right wing off a designed play.

“I thought that was going to go in,” said coach Fran McCaffery, who had a great view of the shot taken right in front of him.

The Hawkeyes had pulled off some heroics just to get to the extra five-minute frame.

Final-minute 3s from Nicholas Baer and Jordan Bohannon turned a 67-61 game into a 67-67 score at the end of regulation.

Iowa did play some of its best basketball as the season wound down — beating Northwestern to close the regular season, then Illinois to open this tournament at Madison Square Garden. The Hawkeyes had Big Ten champion Michigan State on the ropes earlier this month, then Michigan on Thursday.

Multiple players said afterward the team figured it out, but just a little too late.

“You could see it coming,” coach Fran McCaffery said. “Yeah, maybe it was slower than we all hoped. But it’s not easy, what we’re talking about, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience.”

Addressing social media

One of the offseason changes Iowa players plan to make: How they approach outside noise.

The Hawkeyes admitted negative comments on social media had an affect on their mentality as a disappointing season wore on. Iowa finished 14-19 overall, with a 4-14 record in regular-season Big Ten play. Its only win against a top-100 RPI opponent was against Colorado in December.

“People can say some crazy things, and it can affect you mentally,” sophomore forward Cordell Pemsl said. “With the way we were playing, it was hard for us.”

Fellow sophomore Ryan Kriener was even more direct.

“The toughest thing is when you go online after the game, it feels like everyone and their mom is saying you suck,” Kriener said. “You’ve got people saying all this stuff and asking these awful questions that are completely irrelevant. Just sticking the course, just making sure you’re doing the right thing, that’s the toughest part.”

Kriener’s words are a good lesson that Twitter can be a toxic place, and that there’s no place for personally attacking college athletes.

And before you get on a kid for looking at his mentions, avoiding them is not as easy as it sounds in today’s world, when smartphones have become so crucial to connecting to others' everyday life.

“We’re all ready to move on and prepare for next season and try and make our own expectations,” Pemsl said, “and maybe not focus on what other people are saying.”

Kriener flashes again

Speaking of Kriener, he had a terrific game Thursday. He led the Hawkeyes with 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting in his 20 minutes off the bench.

The 6-foot-9 big man gave the Wolverines fits with his physical presence and soft hook shots.

"Once I saw the first one go in, coaches came to me and said you need to be aggressive," Kriener said. "I kept looking for my shot."

His performance was similar to the one he had a week earlier at Minnesota, when he scored 15 points while keying a Hawkeye rally that barely fell short.

It was a tough season for Kriener. He didn't play as much as he wanted, and he suffered two concussions that forced him to the sidelines. He missed six games overall.

“Who knows what kind of year he would’ve had (without the concussions)," McCaffery said. "You kind of see what he was capable of at Minnesota and here. So I’m proud of him."

'Add it to the list'

Jordan Bohannon’s fantastic season came to an end Thursday, but not without one more injury.

“Add it to the list,” the sophomore guard said.

Midway through the second half, Bohannon suffered a hip-pointer injury that was so painful that he had to go to the locker room during a tight game.

Trainer Brad Floy worked on him, gave him some pain-killing medication, and McCaffery got Bohannon back in the game. He only missed 1:54 of court time.

His shot was uncharacteristically off, though he did knock down a stone-cold 3-pointer with 16 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. It was his only made bucket in 11 second-half attempts.

“I don’t know what it was. I couldn’t get anything going. They were doing a really good job of closing out on me and just not letting me get any looks,” Bohannon said. “It was just tough for me all night.”

Earlier this season, Bohannon also detailed his crippling struggles with plantar fasciitis. He played through that. He played through this. What else did he play through that we couldn’t see?

“Not going to declassify any more injuries,” he said with a laugh. “Just going to let you know those two.”

He said plans to take several weeks off from basketball. Certainly, he’s earned the rest.

Staff changes unlikely

It’s a worthwhile consideration: Should Iowa bring in an assistant coach with more of a defensive mindset this offseason?

Perhaps. But a tougher question then would become: Which one would you get rid of?

It’s a moot point, as McCaffery said Thursday he expected Kirk Speraw, Sherman Dillard and Andrew Francis to return for their ninth seasons as his core assistant coaches.

“I hope one of them gets a head-coaching job. If that’s the case, they’ll be gone,” McCaffery said. “Otherwise, yeah (they’ll be back).”

What about bringing in a graduate-transfer?

Right now, McCaffery doesn’t have a scholarship to offer. If Iowa loses a transfer or two, the coach would be willing to look at it. He hasn’t taken in a grad transfer in his eight years at Iowa, but the Hawkeyes could use defensive or ball-handling help, at minimum.

“If we had one (scholarship), it’s a possibility,” McCaffery said. “It’s hard to talk about hypotheticals.”