Maryland trouncing reveals depleted Hawkeyes are ready to slog through injury adversity
IOWA CITY, Ia. — As the sports-saturated topic of resiliency permeated the press room Friday night, every Iowa basketball player available had the chance to assess the Hawkeyes’ situation in his own way.
There weren’t any dramatic statements or emotional declarations on how many obstacles the team has endured. There’s been a lot — adversity and resiliency do actually fit here — but this bunch wasn’t interested in making it a huge deal. That’s even after the Hawkeyes’ 67-49 thumping of No. 14 Maryland, which featured more Iowa players in suits and sweatpants than reserves in jerseys.
It’s part of the drill, these Hawkeye say. The physicality of a college basketball season inflicts pain at random. No team is safe from getting hit. With three starters and another reserve down now — and possibly longer — this is Iowa’s reality.
The Hawkeyes (11-3, 2-3 Big Ten Conference) aren’t wilting amid their unfortunate scenario.
“I think we’ve done a good job understanding, ‘OK, here are the guys we have — and we know what each individual can do — let’s put this together and give ourselves a chance to win,’" forward Cordell Pemsl said.
The Terrapin trouncing revealed it’s going to take a bit from everyone.
Among another Luka Garza-Joe Wieskamp tag-team destruction (47 points, 24 rebounds and six treys) were pivotal contributions from Iowa’s reserve unit. It wasn’t always pretty, but guys like Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kriener, Pemsl and others all brought something productive to the table.
Take Evelyn’s fastbreak trey with 13:58 remaining after Maryland climbed within 10. His first Big Ten points in a season-high 30 minutes helped keep the Terrapins from making a hard charge. Evelyn’s nice first-half assist to Wieskamp on another fastbreak energized the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd.
“Coach definitely said to me there’s a lot more minutes available now. Guys are hurt and going through different things,” Evelyn said. “So it’s next man up — no excuses. We have a no-excuse mentality. We’ve just got to keep playing to win and figuring out how we’re going to win each game.”
Pemsl chipped in on Iowa’s 14-0 run with a rare 3-pointer The Dubuque Whalert product hit his first trey since Feb. 5, 2016, when the Golden Eagles faced rival Dubuque Hempstead. It’s understandable why Iowa’s bench and the Hawkeye crowd celebrated when Pemsl’s three swished home.
And Iowa needed it. Pemsl’s shot gave the Hawkeyes a lead after an offensive trudge through the opening 11 minutes. Maryland got no closer than its 18-15 deficit. Pemsl also added two rebounds and four assists while playing his most minutes of the year. Seven points and six rebounds from Ryan Kriener were crucial, too.
“Even with Joe and Luka doing everything they can for almost 40 minutes a night, we have very confident guys elsewhere,” Pemsl said, “like myself and Ryan Kriener, Joe (Toussaint), Bakari, even Riley (Till) as well. We can step up and fill those gaps. We’re confident we have guys who can score at a lot of levels.
The Hawkeyes' situation is not likely to improve anytime soon. Jack Nunge (torn ACL) has been out for the year since late November. Jordan Bohannon’s hip saga ended with a medical redshirt. Patrick McCaffery’s lingering health issues related to thyroid cancer he beat as a teenager has put his season in jeopardy for two months. And a stress reaction in CJ Fredrick’s left foot has his status unclear.
That’s a long list with 15 games left in the regular season. For the eight Hawkeyes who remain, there are grueling nights ahead.
“We take the adversity as a challenge, and we’re going to push through it,” Garza said. “That’s been the mentality of this group, that people are going to count us out because of our injuries and all this. But that stuff happens in college basketball, happens at any level in any sport.
“We’re not going to fold just because a couple people got hurt.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.