IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Many thought Iowa would reach the NCAA Tournament this season. Instead, the Hawkeyes have clinched a losing record in the Big Ten.
It isn't Tyler Cook's fault.
A 6-foot-9 sophomore forward out of St. Louis, Cook has emerged as one of the best young post players in the Big Ten. He's averaging 15.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in just 27 minutes and shooting .574 percent from the floor.
Cook, along with fellow sophomore Jordan Bohannon, has emerged as a leader for a program plodding through an unexpectedly poor season.
Iowa (12-14, 3-10 Big Ten) plays at No. 14 Ohio State on Saturday.
"It's pretty simple. He's a dog. That's something he keeps trying to instill with us, to be dogs out there. He's one of those first guys in the gym, last guys in the gym mentality," Bohannon said. "(That is) someone that you want on your team to set a standard for how you need to work."
Cook came to Iowa as the biggest recruit eighth-year coach Fran McCaffery has landed. So it's hardly a surprise Cook has been a difference maker from the moment he arrived on campus.
Cook entered the starting lineup right away in 2016-17, becoming just the second Hawkeye with 10 or more rebounds in his debut in 20 years.
Cook fractured his right index finger in practice in late November that season, which cost him seven games and hampered him at times when he returned. But Cook scored in double figures in 10 of the final 13 games, and Iowa reached the NIT despite having just one senior.
This year, Cook has been a constant for an otherwise inconsistent team — and he's getting better down the stretch.
Cook has averaged 20.6 points over his last five games, including 26 in Tuesday's 96-93 home loss to No. 4 Michigan State.
Cook's late surge is crucial for Iowa, which is desperate for leadership with little but pride left to challenge a young team in the final five games of the season.
"We're not going to give up," Cook said. "We don't have guys in the locker room that give up."
Though Cook's jump shot is still developing, he's grown proficient at attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Cook got big men Nick Ward and Jalen Jackson Jr. in early foul trouble on Tuesday, helping Iowa surge out to an eight-point lead before the more cohesive Spartans rallied late.
"Yeah, he's got the ability to do that. He's quick, he's powerful," McCaffery said. "He was running. I thought his activity level was really good. He's a handful in those situations."
Cook's free-throw stroke isn't there quite yet at .664 percent. But during warmups, he focuses on perfecting the kind of mid-range shots that can make a power forward so dangerous.
"When you have a guy like that on your team that you know you can look on, that he's put in the work to get to this point, you're going to see results like he has," Bohannon said.
If Cook can add a jumper to his arsenal, Iowa might be bringing back one of the better players in the country next season.
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