By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Isaiah Moss is nowhere near to being the offensive player that Peter Jok was for the Iowa basketball team.
But for one night, Moss was pretty good and that seems to make a big difference for his team.
The 6-foot-5 Chicago native made 4-of-6 3-point baskets in Tuesday’s 94-80 victory over Minnesota and was one of six Iowa players to score in double figures with 16 points, including 13 of his team's 57 points in the second half.
“The way he came back in the second half and played so well, I thought that was really important for him and also for our team,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
Moss played the same role that Jok often played for Iowa last season as a prolific 3-point shooter who led the Big Ten in scoring as a senior with a 19.9 per-game average.
Moss, simply by making most of his 3-point shots, helped to create more space for sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon, who is deadly when given room to shoot. Bohannon led Iowa with 20 points and matched Moss with four 3-point baskets in Tuesday’s victory
“When that happens our team is flowing and you saw that tonight,” Bohannon said. “He was able to get going in that second half and that really opened up everyone’s game.”
Minnesota’s starting backcourt, on the other hand, combined to score just 15 points on 4-of-21 shooting from the field. All-Big Ten point guard Nate Mason missed 11 of his 13 shots, including all six of his 3-point attempts.
As is often the case, the team with the better guards prevailed on Tuesday. The old theory that a team is only as good as its guards seems to fit with this Iowa team.
Iowa is 3-8 in the Big Ten and 12-12 overall heading into Saturday’s game at Penn State, and there is one thing that stands out in the three victories over Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota besides the level competition being suspect.
Moss scored at least 12 points in all three games and made at least three 3-pointers in two of the three games.
It probably is no coincidence that Iowa has lost all six Big Ten games in which Moss has been held to fewer than 10 points.
When Moss plays well, his team often plays well and vice versa.
And nobody on the team is impacted more by Moss’ performance than the 6-0 Bohannon, who made the Big Ten All-Freshmen team last season, thanks partly to playing alongside Jok and getting open looks.
Bohannon knows that he stands to benefit perhaps more than anybody else on the team if Moss performs well on offense. Opponents will have to respect Moss more on the perimeter if they feel the third-year sophomore is a legitimate threat from 3-point range.
Iowa has won seven of the eight games in which Moss has made at least three 3-point baskets this season, but also has lost 10 of the 13 games in which he has made one or fewer treys.
“We’re trying to create some open shots with him because it’s going to start to kind of contribute to my success on the offensive end as well because I’m able to penetrate a little more and get other people open,” Bohannon said. “And you kind of saw that tonight. When he was going, I was able to get going a little bit, too.”
Moss has shown that he can get to the basket and score in transition. The third-year sophomore likes to attack the rim and is a capable dunker.
But Moss often disappears on offense, and that usually happens when his perimeter shot isn't falling. And when that happens, Bohannon's job becomes that much tougher.
Bohannon is arguably Iowa’s most important player followed by 6-9 sophomore forward Tyler Cook in terms of what they bring to the team on a game-by-game basis.
It would help immensely if Moss were third on that list, partly because of the position he plays and because of having to replace Jok, but Moss isn’t there yet.
One victory in which he played well against a depleted and struggling Minnesota squad hardly signifies as a turnaround for Moss or for the team.
The media gushed over Bohannon’ performance against the Gophers, which also included 10 assists and just two turnovers in 38 minutes, and deservedly so.
But his game is also lacking in some areas, especially when it comes to pressuring the ball on defense and creating his own shot.
That’s why Bohannon needs Moss to perform well at shooting guard because proper floor spacing plays such a big part on offense.
Sophomore Maishe Dailey and junior Brady Ellingson are the only other real options at shooting guard, but Ellingson is currently in concussion protocol and has struggled for most of the season.
The 6-7 Dailey has shown flashes, but still struggles with consistency as a shooter and as a decision maker.
Freshman guard Connor McCaffery also has been out for almost the entire season because of health issues and now appears headed for a redshirt season.
It isn’t Moss or bust at shooting guard for Iowa this season, but is pretty close.
Incoming freshmen Joe Wieskamp and C.J. Fredrick should help at shooting guard beginning next season, but until that happens, you make do with what you have.
You also could make a strong case for the 6-7 Wieskamp being a better option at small forward in college.
But Moss is definitely a shooting guard and a huge key to Iowa’s successes and failures.
Say what you want about McCaffery’s quick fuse, but he has been extremely patient with and supportive of Moss because McCaffery knows how crucial Moss is to the team’ success.
Moss had scored three or fewer points in three of the previous four games before Tuesday’s victory. But McCaffery stuck with him and was rewarded for his patience.
“It just shows, even my teammates, that they still have confidence in me and that brings me up,” Moss said.