IOWA CITY, Ia. — Aside from a few ushers, some early-arriving media members and a couple eager rebounders, Carver-Hawkeye Arena sat mostly empty some two-plus hours before Thursday’s Cy-Hawk showdown.
Call it Isaiah Moss’ perfect backdrop for some early pregame work.
The Hawkeyes’ full contingent was still at least 45 minutes from emerging, but Moss and assistant coach Andrew Francis worked at one of the hoops in solitude. Countless shots went up. Most splashed home.
Call it a precursor to one of Moss’ most emphatic shooting halves as a Hawkeye.
His 18-point first half — part of a 20-point night that helped push No. 19 Iowa to a needed 98-84 win over Iowa State — again flashed the offensive prowess Moss can deliver when he gets rolling. It’s come in waves throughout his Iowa City tenure, but many marvel when that flow arrives.
“When Isaiah gets hot and is playing with that swag that we know he has, it’s a sight to see,” forward Tyler Cook said. “I was honestly enjoying watching him do his thing, especially in the first half.
“… We wanted to keep setting him up (early). I take partial responsibility for that as a big. It’s part of my job to get him open, get him good looks. And Isaiah’s a grown man. He knows how to play the game. We’re going to try to keep it rolling because when he’s hitting and playing with that kind of confidence and swag, it makes us hard to beat.”
Maybe it was taking a cue from head coach Fran McCaffery, who said postgame he told Moss “to get his swag back,” but many of his Iowa teammates highlighted confidence restoration as the biggest takeaway with Moss.
It was no secret that it had been a sputtering start for the redshirt junior, who scored more than eight points just once in the season’s first seven games. The only outlier in that stretch was against lowly Alabama State (15 points on 6-for-9 shooting). Moss remained in the starting lineup throughout, but it wasn’t until this week that he finally cracked the 30-minute plateau.
A spark seemingly flickered Monday at Michigan State — Moss being one of the few Hawkeyes who showed up in the 90-68 East Lansing drubbing. He scored 13 points, but more importantly played 33 minutes, second only to Cook.
That swag started to bubble. Thursday, it came gushing out.
Moss’ scoring column sported double figures before the first half’s midway point, as three treys and a jumper fell in the first nine minutes. Some were wide-open in transition, others were tough looks that splashed home.
Moss had a new season-high, with six minutes until halftime.
“I think that was the best half I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Moss, who played the entire opening 20 minutes. “But I’ve been feeling great. I’ve been shooting it pretty well. Just going to continue to keep working.
“Coach (McCaffery) and I have a great relationship, and we’re always talking about me playing with swagger and confidence every game, knowing that I’m the best player out there.”
Moss picked up two fouls in the second half’s first four minutes, sending him to the bench with three for an extended stretch. He took only one shot in the second half — did make it — but Iowa’ reinforcements picked up the slack and made Thursday a mostly one-sided affair.
Still, Moss’ instant offense was welcomed in a backcourt that needed contributions beyond the usual sources. Joe Wieskamp’s right ankle was a concern coming in, a true game-time decision that didn’t have an official answer until the starting lineup was revealed. Jordan Bohannon didn’t have a typical night, either.
“We see it every day in practice with Isaiah — he can score at will,” Wieskamp said. Hopefully, that continues for him.”
In Moss’ swagger search, perhaps another setting that involved a mostly empty Carver-Hawkeye Arena provided some offensive inspiration.
Once the women’s Cy-Hawk affair concluded Wednesday night, the Iowa and Iowa State basketball managers took the floor for their own version of this magnified in-state rivalry. A small crowd of maybe 30 gathered to watch. Moss was one of the few Hawkeye regulars on hand for the 61-47 Iowa victory.
“(Iowa basketball manager) Jarrett (Knepper) had like 32 points (Wednesday) night,” Moss said with a laugh. “I told him I'm going to try to shoot like him."
Whatever the source, it worked for Moss less than a day later.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.