Iowa takeaways: McCaffery 'disturbed' by Pemsl incident, plans to keep using deep rotation, thinks Hawkeyes remain focused

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday that he didn’t see forward Cordell Pemsl take an elbow to the head in Sunday’s loss at Maryland, but he has watched replays of the incident and discussed it at length with a Big Ten Conference administrator.

“He was disturbed by the play, as was I,” McCaffery said of his conversation with Rick Boyages, the league’s associate commissioner who oversees men’s basketball.

The play happened late in the first half of Maryland’s 91-73 victory, as Pemsl set a screen at the 3-point arc for Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon, who had the ball. Terrapins guard Anthony Cowan appeared to deliberately swing his right elbow and hit Pemsl in the side of the head. Pemsl later called it a “dirty” play, but McCaffery said his player didn’t mention it to the coaches at the time.

“I was watching J-Bo with the ball. I didn’t notice it, so it was an unfortunate situation, obviously,” McCaffery said.

Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl stands on the court in the second half of at Maryland on Sunday. The sophomore took an elbow to the head late in the first half, but didn't bring it to the attention of his coaches or the officials and so the play was not reviewed.

McCaffery praised the Big Ten for doing a “thorough job of postgame analysis on officiating” and called Boyages “a really professional guy.”

He said Boyages encouraged him to alert the on-court officials immediately after any such physical contact so that they can review the play on the monitor and decide whether a technical foul is warranted.

McCaffery seemed happy with that advice and also spoke to Pemsl on Tuesday morning, saying: “You’ve got to tell us if we don’t see that.”

McCaffery was assessed two technical fouls and ejected from the game shortly after the Pemsl incident.

Shorter bench? Not so fast

McCaffery appeared to reduce his rotation of players Sunday, sitting junior guard Brady Ellingson while playing forwards Ryan Kriener and Jack Nunge sparingly. Kriener scored two points in five minutes. Nunge, a freshman, played a season-low three minutes and was held scoreless for only the second time.

But that’s not a change in philosophy, said McCaffery, who typically uses 11 players.

“I should have played Brady. Of course, I wasn’t there in the second half or I probably would have,” he said. “Brady deserves to play and he’ll be back in there.”

Ellingson is averaging 3.6 points per game and has been dealing with a sprained ankle, McCaffery said.

McCaffery also indicated he may start playing his lone senior, Dom Uhl. The 6-foot-9 forward has been the one healthy scholarship player kept on the bench this season, scoring a total of three points and appearing for only two minutes in five Big Ten games.

“He’s been ready. He’s stayed ready,” McCaffery said. “You look at our situation defensively, maybe he could help with his length, with his speed.”

Attitude remains positive

McCaffery said he’s seen no sign that his players are starting to lose their focus during an 0-5 start to league play. The Hawkeyes are 9-9 overall and next play at 7 p.m. Thursday at Illinois, the only other winless team in the Big Ten. Iowa has surrendered more than 90 points in back-to-back losses.

“I think the start of the game is evident” that the Hawkeyes remain engaged, McCaffery said of his team’s early 17-7 lead at Maryland. “We had to overcome a lot in the first half and there we are with 10 minutes to go with a lead despite everything that happened. So I think we’re in good position.”

On Sunday, it was shooting guard Isaiah Moss who kept the Hawkeyes close with a career-high 25 points. Bohannon added 17. But the Hawkeyes got only 22 points in the paint with post players Tyler Cook and Luka Garza in foul trouble.

In the previous two losses — to Michigan and Ohio State — Cook scored 49 points while Iowa’s perimeter players struggled to supplement that offense.

“We didn’t get a lot inside, which was rare,” McCaffery said of the Maryland loss. “It was our perimeter, with those two guys (Bohannon and Moss) and Nicholas Baer, is why we were ahead. We have to get that along with our low-post game going.”

Connor McCaffery update

McCaffery said his son, Connor, has lost 15 pounds after a tonsillectomy and then a follow-up surgery a week ago. The freshman point guard is still unable to practice and a medical redshirt remains a possibility.

Fran McCaffery said he’s not sure if Connor would be able to redshirt in basketball and play baseball in the spring. Connor plans to compete in both sports at Iowa.

“I’m really proud of him. Here’s a guy who gets mono, he still makes the dean’s list,” Fran McCaffery said of his son. “He’s positive on the bench. He’s positive in the locker room. I think ultimately he’ll be a big help to us.”