By Adam Hensley
Wells Fargo Arena has been kind to Nicholas Baer.
As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Baer scored 13 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and recorded 6 blocked shots — at the time, an arena record.
The next season, he scored 11 points, totaled 11 rebounds, threw out 3 assists, blocked a pair of shots, and also notched a steal in his first-ever double-double in a Hawkeye uniform.
In Iowa’s 90-64 win over Drake on Dec. 16, Baer put on his best Des Moines performance to date.
The Bettendorf native churned out an 11-point, 14-rebound performance for his fourth double-double of his career, and he added 5 assists, a career-best 5 steals, and 1 block for good measure — all while dealing with a food bug earlier this week.
“He was the difference in our team,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “There’s no question about it.”
Baer put on his best outing this season after missing a stretch of games with a broken bone in his pinky.
He did not play during Iowa’s trip to the Cayman Islands, and Iowa failed to play with a consistent defensive effort through any games until Dec. 16, thanks mainly in part to Baer’s stat-stuffing play.
“I think more than anything, this has always been a part of the season where we’re really able to put a game plan together,” Baer said. “It’s something that we really did today. Being able to put a whole game plan together for 40 minutes, I think that’s more of a testament to our team than any personal accolades.”
The Hawkeyes held the Bulldogs to roughly 43 percent from the field, but buckled down on 3-point defense in the second half, trimming Drake’s shooting from 50 percent in the first half to 21.4.
Baer’s active hands contributed in the turnover game as well; the Bulldogs turned the ball over 19 times, many of which coming during Iowa’s breakthrough in the second half.
McCaffery elected Baer to head Iowa’s full-court press, giving the Bulldogs fits from the moment they inbounded the ball.
“He’s always been a spark for our team,” Jordan Bohannon said. “We got our transition game going, and a lot of that had to do with getting stops on the defensive end. He was a big part of that.”
Going into the contest, Iowa knew about Drake’s penchant for fighting for loose balls.
The Hawkeyes only allowed 5 offensive rebounds, while Baer grabbed 5 himself.
“Drake’s a pretty scrappy team,” he said. “They pride themselves on getting 50-50 balls and offensive rebounds, loose balls, things like that. We were able to get those balls and get all those rebounds, and I think that was really beneficial for us.”
Baer will always have a connection to Wells Fargo Arena after recording two double-doubles and setting the arena record for blocks, but he sees the Hy-Vee Classic more as a measuring stick to where the team is rather than an opportunity to showcase himself to the state’s fans.
“I think it’s more indicative of where we are as a team every year when we come here,” he said. “This is mid-December, and at this point, we should be starting to put things together … when we are playing this way as a team, it allows players like me to have better games.”