Hawkeye offense struggles against Minnesota


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The end of Iowa’s 64-59 loss to Minnesota (16-9, 5-7 Big Ten) Thursday night was almost too fitting. After clawing its way back from trailing by as many as 11 points, Iowa was down 3 with 19 seconds remaining, Mike Gesell drove the lane, tried to get a quick basket, but was stripped by Gopher Maurice Walker.

It was Iowa’s 16th and final turnover of the evening, the one that put the nail in Iowa’s coffin and dropped the Hawkeyes to 15-9 (6-5).

“He’s got some options there. He’s got action on his left, he’s got action on his right, and he’s got space. We trust him to make a play.” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “He got it essentially to the front of the rim. The kid, Walker, made a nice play. He poked it from him.”

Exactly what McCaffery described — the decision whether to shoot or pass —Iowa struggled with all evening. This indecision led to passing up open looks early in the shot clock, which led to forced attempts late in a given possession. At times, this formula snowballed into turnovers, which was most evident in an 8:11 scoreless stretch before halftime.

In that span, Iowa turned the ball over seven times on 12 possessions.

“We were trying to do everything to get them out of that mode they were in, which wasn’t going to be good enough,” McCaffery said. “… It wasn’t going to be good enough tonight if we kept playing like that.

“We were trying to knock it off center a little bit and be more aggressive and attack the rim.”

To its credit, Iowa did shoot 50 percent in the second half and began to figure things out, but it wasn’t enough.

Knowing when to continue moving the ball or to put up an attempt is what made Iowa so successful in its last two games — the Hawkeyes shot better than 60 percent in wins over Michigan and Maryland while moving the ball with great efficiency.

“There’s a very fine line between taking that open shot right away or moving the basketball,” Gesell said.  “I think tonight we were passing it back and forth, and our cuts weren’t to score. I think we were just cutting to get open, and we were satisfied with just swinging the ball around the perimeter.”

This was something Peter Jok, who finished with 16 points on 50 percent shooting including 2-of-5 from beyond the arc, said troubled his team.

Jok made a few early shots, but Minnesota — a strong defensive team whose opponents have turned the ball over 441 times (a number good for fourth in NCAA) — adjusted and played the sophomore well.

“I made my first couple shots, and I felt like they were going to jump at me and test my shot, so I was just trying to pump fake and drive,” Jok said. “They stayed down, and as the game went on, I knew what I had to do, but we have to keep working on that.”

Jok is exactly right. Moving the ball so well has produced some of the best basketball Iowa has played this season, but if it can’t do so consistently, the Hawkeyes may wind up trailing late in games and be forced to come down to do-or-die situations, such as the one Thursday night.

“We turned down a lot of shots, but at the same time we’ve been working on moving the ball side-to-side,” Jok said. “I feel that’s confusing to some players, but we just have to keep working on that, and we’ll be good.”

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.

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