Ryan Kriener key for Hawkeye basketball in next-man-up role

Ryan Kriener’s injection of energy in the first half sparked a Hawkeye run, and that’s why he’s next in line after injuries and a redshirt at the forward position.

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Ryan Kriener key for Hawkeye basketball in next-man-up role

Iowa forward Ryan Kriener (15) attempts to make a dunk during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Iowa forward Ryan Kriener (15) attempts to make a dunk during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Ryan Kriener (15) attempts to make a dunk during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Ryan Kriener (15) attempts to make a dunk during the men's basketball game against Western Carolina at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Luka Garza notched two early fouls in the first half of Iowa’s 78-60 win over Western Carolina. Head coach Fran McCaffery rolled with Ryan Kriener from there, and it paid off.

In the first half alone, Kriener played nearly 10 minutes, scoring 5 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, blocking a shot, recording a steal, and also assisting on a shot. His +16 in the box score was the highest of any player on both teams in the first half (he finished the game with a +19, second on the team behind Tyler Cook).

Kriener turned his ankle in the second half of the Hawkeye victory, but McCaffery – while pleased with Kriener’s play – said that the forward should be fine for Iowa’s game against Savannah State on Dec. 22.

“Kriener’s playing great,” McCaffery said. “I think he was terrific Saturday, I thought he was terrific [Tuesday]. I really wanted to leave him out there. [I was] sorry he tweaked that ankle. I wasn’t going to put him back in at that point.”

Kriener’s play in the first half was encouraging for McCaffery and Company, as on Tuesday, Cordell Pemsl underwent season-ending surgery. Combine his absence with Jack Nunge’s redshirt and an ankle injury to Riley Till (who was in a boot during the game), and Iowa’s frontcourt is now much slimmer than last season’s.

The junior from Spirit Lake, Iowa, is next in line after Cook and Garza, and he showed on Tuesday just why he’s in that position.

One of the game’s best sequences came from Kriener, who recorded a steal and a block all within 30 seconds of action. Kriener’s block was arguably the biggest defensive highlights of the game, as he swallowed up a Western Carolina shot in one motion.

“You always see crazy highlights of dudes jumping out of the gym and grabbing a shot out of the air, but I didn’t jump that high,” Kriener said. “I was just kind of there, so I grabbed it. That was kind of a nutty play.”

Kriener’s block came complete with a mean-mugging stare-down.

“I had to. He was trying to talk a little about it,” he said. “He just gave me the ball, so I didn’t know what to do.”

Kriener entered the game with 12:46 remaining in the first half, and at that point, Iowa led, 14-12.

McCaffery subbed him out at the 6:20 mark, and during that time span, the Hawkeyes lead grew from 2 points to 13.

Iowa outscored Western Carolina, 19-8, in Kriener’s time on the court during that stretch.

Entering Tuesday’s contest, Kriener was averaging 11.7 minutes per game, shooting 50 percent from the floor. Outside shooting hasn’t been his strong suit, as he’s hit just three of his 12 attempts from down town.

The confidence, though, isn’t going anywhere.

“I think it’s just a confidence the guys have in me, that coach has in me. Personally, I really haven’t shot the ball well from the outside, but they keep telling me to shoot it, to have confidence in myself. In practice, I’m not going to hesitate to shoot in, and in the game, I can’t hesitate to shoot it.”

Kriener wasn’t the only Hawkeye to go to work off the bench on Tuesday, though. Fellow forward Nicholas Baer proved to be his usual spark of instant defense upon his entry into the contest. The senior jumped into passing lanes, recording 3 steals in the first half.

In total, Baer finished the game with 3 steals and 4 blocks.

Baer, Kriener, and the rest of the Hawkeye defense forced a season-high 26 turnovers. Every Catamount but one had at least 1 turnover. Starters Carlos Dotson and Onno Stegar combined for 11 giveaways, many of which were forced from Iowa’s second unit.

In total, Iowa’s bench outscored Western Carolina’s, 22-2. Kriener and Baer combined for 9 of the Hawkeye bench’s points, as Connor McCaffery and Maishe Dailey got in on the action as well. Connor McCaffery finished with a team-high 5 assists to pair with his 9 points, and Dailey added 4 points and an assist in his action.

“We have a really deep team,” Kriener said. “Whoever is coming off the bench, we’ve got a lot of faith in those guys to come up and make plays.”

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