IOWA CITY — The big concerns for the Iowa basketball team entering its first real test of the season were threefold.
Could the Hawkeyes’ young big men hold up against one of the Big East’s best centers? Could Iowa stop having periodic defensive lapses? And could the Hawkeyes reduce the number of turnovers from the first two games?
At least they got one of the three. Maybe. Sort of.
Freshman big man Tyler Cook outscored Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado by a decisive margin inside but the flow of turnovers continued and the visiting Pirates periodically shredded Iowa’s defense in a 91-83 victory amid an uncharacteristically intense mid-November setting at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The perimeter trio of Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell combined for 71 points as Seton Hall gradually pulled away in the second half and exposed some gaping holes in Iowa’s defense.
“I would have liked to have seen us played better defense collectively for the duration but especially in the second half …’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We did not perform to the level we need to.’’
Seton Hall shot 65.5 percent from the field in the second half to overcome a 44-42 Iowa halftime lead and McCaffery pointed out that he couldn’t blame it on having a young team. Many of his most seasoned players were on the court when much of the shredding took place.
Senior Peter Jok, who registered career highs of 30 points and 11 rebounds, said inexperience was no excuse. He said the Hawkeyes did not keep Seton Hall’s penetrating guards out of gaps and there was very little rim-protecting presence on the back end.
While Cook scored 24 points — Delgado finished with nine — the Iowa freshman often seemed to be a no-show when Pirates guards broke through and took it to the basket.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,’’ McCaffery said. “It’s got to be five guys working together. There’s a lot going on there. When a team shoots 66 percent, there’s a lot going on.’’
Cook certainly did the job at the offensive end of the floor, however. He connected on 9 of 15 shots from the floor, including a spinning drive for a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet early in the second half.
“I liked a lot of things he did,’’ McCaffery said. “As he figures it out, he’ll get even better. He ran the floor and he had a handful in Delgado. Unfortunately, he missed seven free throws but he also got (the the line) 12 times.’’
Jok put the team on his shoulders and kept the Hawkeyes in the game with a hot streak through the middle stages of the second half. But Iowa, after starting the game with a very good stretch of defense, didn’t have any sort of answer for the Pirates’ perimeter trio for much of the contest.
Carrington, who was averaging 22.5 points per game coming in, hurt them with drives and finished with 20 points. Rodriguez burned them with a blend of 3-pointers and drives, finishing with 25 points. And Powell, a freshman reserve, knocked down five threes on his way to 26 points.
The Hawkeyes grabbed the upper hand early, holding Seton Hall scoreless for nearly three minutes but the defending Big East champions fought back behind Powell, opening a 31-26 lead and the rest of the first half was a wild, back-and-forth scramble with the lead changing hands eight times.
Iowa regained the lead when Jok drained a 25-foot jumper with 40 seconds left in the half and the Hawkeyes went to the locker room with a 44-42 edge.
A cold spell at the start of the second half allowed Seton Hall to grab the lead although Iowa briefly grabbed it back on a Nicholas Baer tip-in.
But the Pirates regained the upper hand with an 8-0 run led by Rodriguez and they gradually pulled away. Their lead peaked at 88-77 on a Rodriguez three before Dom Uhl and Christian Williams made a pair of three to get as close as five (88-83) in the final minute.
“We’ve got to play harder down the stretch,’’ Cook said. “I think they just out-fought us down the stretch.’’