By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Under the right circumstances, the much-maligned Carver-Hawkeye Arena can turn into a hostile environment that makes winning more difficult for the opponent.
It doesn’t have the same built-in advantages as Kinnick Stadium where the fans are practically on the playing field.
But Iowa’s home court for basketball can be electric if enough good pieces like having the right opponent and the right starting time fall into place.
That will be the case on Saturday when No. 25 Iowa faces No. 16 Ohio State in a key Big Ten matchup at 1:37 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa (13-3, 2-3) will be matched against a nationally ranked Big Ten opponent in a game that starts at a reasonable time on a Saturday, and that has huge importance for both teams.
Iowa would climb to .500 in the conference with a victory and would extend its winning streak in the Big Ten to three games after having started 0-3 in the conference.
Ohio State, on the other hand, is trying to bounce back after losing its last two games to Rutgers (64-61) this past Wednesday and to Michigan State (86-77) on Jan. 5th at home.
Iowa already has lost one Big Ten game at home to Wisconsin in the conference opener, so there is even more pressure to defend the home court.
And part of defending the home court is relying on the fans to create a hostile environment that causes a distraction for the visiting team.
These Iowa players need that advantage on Saturday and they deserve it for how well they have responded to adversity both on and off the court.
Ther were only about 700 tickets still available for the Ohio State game as of mid-Friday afternoon. That means the arena should be close to full, which is also a key part of creating a hostile environment for the visiting team.
Iowa defeated Northwestern 73-63 on Wednesday in Evanston, Ill., despite playing without junior forward Tyler Cook, who is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.
The 6-foot-9 Cook missed the Northwestern game due to a sore knee, but he is expected to play against Ohio State on Saturday.
Cook’s knee is the latest physical ailment to affect this Iowa team.
Junior forward Cordell Pemsl recently had season-ending knee surgery, while sophomore forward Jack Nunge is out for six weeks due to what Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday is a stress fracture.
Nunge is being redshirted this season, along with freshman guard C.J. Fredrick. So even if Nunge wanted to play, the injury would prevent him from doing so.
Sophomore center Luka Garza missed two games because of a sprained ankle, and he also had a nine-pound cyst removed from his abdomen in September.
“We've had more sprained ankles than I've ever seen, ever, and that's just bad luck,” Fran McCaffery said Friday at a news conference. “The kids are taped, and they're in shape. Luckily, we have a deep enough roster.
“I mean, it's interesting because we decide to redshirt two guys, and now we have to redshirt three guys, and then we've had the other injuries that you're talking about. So it's part of it.”
It is easy to underestimate the importance of a game in mid-January because Iowa still has 14 conference games remaining after Saturday.
But a 3-3 record in conference play would look and feel a lot better than a 2-4 record that would also include two losses at home.
That is what’s on the line on Saturday.
Iowa is trying to avoid losing two of its first three conference games at home and needs all the help it can get, including a raucous home crowd and a healthy Tyler Cook.
He dismissed any concerns about his injury having a lingering effect.
“I think I’ll be fine,” Cook said before practice on Friday. “I’m pretty confident I’ll be playing tomorrow. By then, I should be able to get through it, and it shouldn’t linger at all.”
The current Iowa team is trying to distance itself from last season when Iowa suffered a stunning decline, finishing 4-14 in the Big Ten and 14-19 overall.
Iowa already has won back-to-back Big Ten games after failing to do that last season.
The players could have unraveled after falling behind Northwestern by seven points in the second half, but they stayed poised and made the plays necessary to win.
Freshman Joe Wieskamp was spectacular in scoring 19 points and grabbing some key rebounds down the stretch at Northwestern. Garza also made 10-of-11 free throws against Northwestern and senior forward Nicholas Baer grabbed 10 rebounds.
It was a total team effort, but without the best player on the team.
“Those are the things you need, and everybody has got to step up if Tyler is not out there,” McCaffery said. “Baer was great. You know, his rebounding in that game was great, and so was Joe Wieskamp. When we got the stops we needed, it was Baer and Wieskamp on the glass.
“We remember the points that Joe got, but he got some huge rebounds coming down the stretch and was really aggressive attacking the basket. All of those things have to happen together when Cook is out.”
Iowa had a bad habit of unraveling under pressure last season, especially when adversity would strike on the road.
The current team showed against Northwestern that it is different. The players instead of wilting under the pressure made key plays at pivotal times.
“It would have been easy to just roll over but I thought we did a nice job of executing and getting good shot each time and were able to get some key stops there as well,” Baer said. “So I think that’s always important and I thought we did a nice job of that at Northwestern and we’re going to continue that theme here against Ohio State.”
A family affair: Junior point guard Jordan Bohannon will enter Saturday’s game with 995 career points and is closing in on joining his older brothers Matt Bohannon and Jason Bohannon in the 1.000-point career club.
Matt Bohannon scored 1,092 points during his career at Northern Iowa, while Jason Bohannon scored 1,170 for Wisconsin.
“I don’t like to say too much about my personal accolades but it’s pretty special to have brothers like I have that I wa able to grow up with and watch them and learn from and take advice from,” Jordan bohannon said Friday. “There is not a lot of people around the country that have had a family like we have tha’s been able to what we’ve been fortunate to do.
“To have brothers like I’ve had to grow up with has just been special. It’s going to be cool just being able to get to that club, just because of my family and everything and the history of that.”
Iowa vs. Ohio State
When: Saturday, 1:37 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
TV: Big Ten Network
Records: Ohio State is 12-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten; Iowa is 13-3 and 2-3.