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Iowa’s Baer returns to form as Big Ten season nears

Hawkeyes look to three final non-conference games to make statement

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Indiana
Iowa Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer (51) shoots the ball in the second half of the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall. 
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes won their second cupcake game in a row against Drake on Saturday, but they might’ve found their winning formula — if they can stay consistent. And that’s been an issue all season.

It’s not hard to play your best basketball against a mid-major team like Drake, but that’s what the Hawkeyes might have needed with just three non-conference foes before the rest of their Big Ten slate.

En route to a 90-64 win against the Bulldogs, sophomore forward Tyler Cook posted 23 points with four rebounds and three assists. Sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon, who is connecting on 47.2 percent from three-point range this year, provided some sharpshooting going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and totaled 15 points and seven assists, while Nicholas Baer did everything they needed with 11 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five steals.

It was Baer’s third start — sixth game — since returning from injury, and the Hawkeyes will hope that Drake was the corner he needed to turn if they hope to have a shot within the Big Ten. Last season’s Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year had yet to reach double digits in any game until Saturday.

If Iowa can find some bit of consistency, those three players doing what they did against Drake might prove to be its winning formula. Sprinkle in freshman Luka Garza, who posted 13 points and seven assists, with Jack Nunge and others, this team isn’t far off.

"It was the best collective effort," head coach Fran McCaffery told following the game. "We haven't put it together until today. For us to be able to play the way we did is a big step for us. Anything short of that and we have a hard time beating this team."

Obviously, in the end, it is just Drake, but there are promising signs.

Cook will need to become more of a factor in the coming games, and can’t disappear like he has in some contests, but he is shooting 58.2 percent from the field — 11th in the Big Ten — while averaging 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Baer needs to continue his progress from injury, and Bohannon needs to keep hitting daggers from deep. Since Baer has returned from injury, Garza and Nunge have lost minutes, but continue to be key players off the bench.

Iowa plays Southern Utah at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Colorado at 8 p.m. Friday and Northern Illinois at 7 p.m. on Dec. 29. The Hawkeyes will need wins in each game, including the tough game against Colorado in Sioux Falls, South Dakota before they play a surging Michigan team on Jan. 2.