IOWA CITY — It wasn’t the best half of basketball Isaiah Moss has ever played.
Even Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery, who is prone to hyperbole, wouldn’t go quite that far.
But second best? Yeah. Maybe. Probably.
“Definitely,’’ Moss said. “I was just aggressive. I saw my first shot go in so it’s always good to see that. I kept shooting and they all started falling.’’
Moss’ performance in the Hawkeyes’ 98-84 victory over Iowa State on Thursday was perhaps the most positive aspect of a game that spun Iowa’s season back in a positive direction. He contributed a season-high 20 points — 18 in the first half alone — and a career-high seven rebounds.
If the 6-foot-5 junior somehow can sustain that same level of intensity and productivity, the Hawkeyes are going to be very difficult to defend in the months to come.
Moss has been an enigma for most of his college career. He has started 70 consecutive games and has had some wildly productive moments — he scored 19 points in the final minute, 37 seconds of a game at Minnesota last February — but he has had many other moments when he didn’t really do much.
He had been that way much of this season until Thursday. He came into the Iowa State game averaging only 7.0 points and 18.3 minutes per game.
But against the Cyclones, he made 7 of 11 shots in the first half. Four of those were 3-pointers and the other three were perimeter shots in which he had one foot on or just over the 3-point line.
ISU coach Steve Prohm pointed to Moss as the difference in the game.
McCaffery was so enamored with the way Moss played that he left him on the court for the entire 20 minutes of the first half.
“It started for him in the last game,’’ McCaffery said, referring to Moss’ 13-point effort in a loss at Michigan State. “He's got that in him. He's had games like that, and I just told him ‘Get your swag back and play that way,’ and I'm just really proud of him. He's really worked hard.’’
Moss had only two points after halftime against Iowa State but still made his presence felt.
“Probably the best thing about Isaiah is in the second half when they adjusted and played him differently, he had no problem setting other guys up, keeping the ball moving and getting other guys involved,’’ teammate Tyler Cook said. “That was probably the best thing because we know Isaiah can score.’’
Moss couldn’t really explain why he seemed to come out much more determined and aggressive.
“I treat every game the same,’’ he insisted. “I was just aggressive. My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball when I was hot.’’
He said there was more of an emphasis in practice on making hard cuts off screens to get himself free for open shots. However, he admitted a lot of it was just pure confidence.
“Seeing the ball go in on the first shot means a lot, especially for me,’’ Moss said. “That builds my confidence a lot.’’
His teammates have seen this version of Moss frequently in practice and hope they’ll continue to see more of it in games.
“He was making threes, dribble jumpers, stepback jumpers and that’s all within his game so it didn’t come as a surprise to any of us,’’ senior forward Nicholas Baer said. “I was just really happy for him the way he was able to come out and be aggressive and be an impact player for us.’’
Not a fan: Those who were listening to the Iowa State radio broadcast of the game tell us that Cyclones analyst Eric Heft was harshly critical of Iowa guard Connor McCaffery late in Thursday’s Cy-Hawk battle, calling him (among other things) “a chip off the old block.’’
It wasn’t meant as a compliment.
Broadcasters have been known to get suspended for calling out players on their own team, but it apparently is permissible to pan the opposition.
Down to No. 22: Iowa’s victory over Iowa State was enough to keep the Hawkeyes in the Associated Press Top 25. They checked in at No. 22 this week, down from No. 18 the previous week.
The Big Ten, which had seven teams in the Top 25 last week, now has six: Michigan remained fifth, Michigan State is ninth, Ohio State 15th, Wisconsin 16th and Indiana tied for 25th. Nebraska and Maryland were the top two teams among the others receiving votes.
With No. 1 Gonzaga losing to Tennessee, Kansas moved back into the top slot.
Playing Cincy: Iowa announced last week that it will be playing Cincinnati in Chicago next year as part of the Chicago Legends doubleheader at the United Center.
That game basically replaces the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic, which will go away after it is played one last time Saturday in Des Moines.
It gives the Hawkeyes an even tougher schedule for next season.
“If you look at our schedule in 2019-20, we will play 20 Big Ten games, two Challenge contests (the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and the Gavitt Games), Iowa State, Cincinnati and an MTE (multi-team event),’’ McCaffery said. “It will be a challenge, but that’s what you sign up for when you come to play at the University of Iowa.”
POWs: Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ shared this week’s Big Ten player of the week award with Indiana’s Romeo Langford and Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis sharing freshman of the week honors.
It’s the fourth time in five weeks that Happ has earned a piece of the award.