By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There is no substitute for experience, especially when your team has so few substitutes to use.
The Iowa men’s basketball team has played with a depleted roster for most of the season, and could be without three of its original starters for Thursday’s game against Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery didn’t rule out the possibility that redshirt freshman guard C.J. Fredrick could play against the Buckeyes.
But if Fredrick can’t play due to an ankle injury, Iowa will only have seven recruited scholarship players available for Thursday’s game, which starts at 6 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.
It was the same circumstance for the Minnesota game this past Sunday, and yet, the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes still prevailed 58-55 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Junior center Luka Garza led the way as usual with 24 points and eight rebounds, but Iowa also received a significant boost from its three veteran players, including 6-foot-9 senior forward Ryan Kriener, who replaced Fredrick in the starting lineup and finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Fifth-year senior guard Bakari Evelyn also made two critical free throws with the game on the line and scored seven points off the bench, while fourth-year junior forward Cordell Pemsl contributed six points, three rebounds and one block, also as a reserve.
“It's two seniors and a fifth-year senior; that's huge because those guys are typically not mistake-makers,” Fran McCaffery said of his three veterans. “They might not play a perfect game, they might not score a ton, but they also might.
“But at any given point in time they're going to pretty much make the right decision. They're going to be in the right place defensively. They're not going to panic on the road and that has a very settling influence on everyone else.”
Evelyn, who turned 23 on Feb. 7th, is playing for his third different team in college after having started his career at Nebraska before transferring to Valparaiso where he played as a sophomore and junior.
And though Evelyn doesn’t start, Fran McCaffery sometimes chooses to use Evelyn down the stretch if freshman point guard Joe Toussaint is struggling.
That was the situation against Minnesota, and Evelyn responded like a veteran.
“I think it just helps with experience,” Evelyn said. “Being through these games and having won some and having lost some, it’s just kind of knowing what plays and what mistakes may have happened in the past, and trying to eliminate them from happening in the future.”
This past week was an up-and-down experience for Pemsl, who was suspended for the loss at Indiana last Thursday after being charged with driving with a revoked license.
The Dubuque native felt bad for letting down his teammates and coaches, and was determined to make a positive impact against Minnesota, knowing that Iowa would be without Fredrick, the team’s third leading scorer.
“It was, I guess, a roller coaster,” Pemsl of the past week. “I mean, obviously, with what happened, it was hard not being out there with them at Indiana. But I knew that I just needed to come out and show everybody what I’m still capable of doing. And with C.J. out, I knew that there was an opportunity for more minutes, and a greater opportunity, and I just wanted to take advantage of that.”
As for the Buckeyes, they’ve won six of their last nine games after having lost four games in a row from Dec. 29th to Jan. 11.
Ohio State ranks first in the Big Ten in scoring defense (61.4), 3-point field goal percentage (.382) and 3-pointers made per game (8.7); third in field goal percentage defense (.384), and fifth in rebounding margin (+5.2) and field goal accuracy (.451).
“They are physical, they're connected, they're up on the ball, they're in the gaps, they fight the post, they run back,” Fran McCaffery said of Ohio State. But I think ultimately when you look at a team that plays defense statistically like they do, they compete, and I think that's the best thing you can say about them. Those guys compete.”
Ohio State will be without freshman guard D.J. Carton for Thursday’s game. The Bettendorf native announced recently that he was leaving team for an indefinite period for mental health reasons and has missed the last five games.
Carton was averaging 10.4 points per game when he left the team.
Iowa vs. Ohio State
When: Thursday, 6:01 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Records/rankings: Ohio State is 17-8, 7-7 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 25 in this week’s Associated Press poll; Iowa is 18-8, 9-6 and ranked 20th in the AP poll.
All-time series: Ohio State owns a slim, 81-80, advantage in the all-time series. The two teams have split the last 10 meetings, dating back to 2014. Iowa holds a 50-28 overall advantage over the Buckeyes in Iowa City and a 20-13 edge in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes have won three of the last four contests against the Buckeyes in Iowa City, including a 72-62 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena a year ago.