Iowa shows off superb passing in routing Northern Illinois in nonconference finale

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — By the closing minutes of Iowa's 98-75 blowout victory over Northern Illinois on Friday, the only suspense remaining was whether the host team would get to 34 assists.

That's the school record for a single game, set in 1984 against George Mason.

Iowa was sharing the ball so eagerly and knocking down shots at such a high rate Friday that the Hawkeyes were at 32 assists, on 34 made baskets, with 5 minutes left.

A late-game lull was broken when walk-on Charlie Rose found Cordell Pemsl for a layup. On Iowa's final basket, with 27 seconds left, it was Pemsl again planting underneath the basket, where Ryan Kriener found him with the pass that put the 2017-18 team in the record books. 

That field goal gave the Hawkeyes 34 assists on 36 baskets and perfectly summarized why Iowa was able to win its final nonconference game with such ease.

"I don't think we had a basket in the second half that didn't have an assist attached to it. That's pretty amazing. I don't think that's ever happened in a game I've ever been involved in," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "I'm really proud of the guys' continuing unselfishness."

Freshman center Luka Garza came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points. He made all eight of his shots, including a trio of 3-pointers. Forward Tyler Cook needed only 17 minutes to score 17 points. Guard Isaiah Moss had 11 points and five assists.

It was the fifth consecutive victory for Iowa (9-6 overall) and left it with a 9-4 mark in nonconference play.

"We were moving the ball really well on offense, and we were pushing it. We got a lot of easy baskets," sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon said after recording a team-high seven assists.

The 98 points was the most the Hawkeyes have scored this season and exemplified the kind of free-flowing offense they want to play.

"We set a little more ball screens today because we knew that they had a couple of slow guys down in the post. We were trying to extend them and try to penetrate a little more, and I think we did a really good job of that," Bohannon said. "When we weren't setting ball screens, we were moving without the ball. We were setting flare screens."

The first half couldn’t have gone much better for Iowa, which scored on its first seven possessions and quickly put Northern Illinois away. The Hawkeyes made 20 of 30 field goals and had 18 assists against only three turnovers. The halftime lead was 56-32.

Cook had 14 points, making all five of his shots. Moss made both of his 3-pointers as the Hawkeyes hit seven of 13 from long range in the opening half.

The second half saw the Hawkeyes accumulate assists on all 16 baskets. Garza was brilliant, with 16 points and a pair of 3-pointers after intermission. He entered play 2-for-11 on the season from the arc.

"I've been shooting with a lot more confidence as of late. When I go in a game and I'm not thinking about it, I'm just shooting, it comes off a lot better and it goes in more," Garza said. 

"We played with a lot of great intensity, and it seemed like everyone was hitting on all cylinders."

Garza also had a career-high five blocked shots as Iowa held the Huskies (7-6) to 43.5 percent shooting (30-for-69).

"His energy level was phenomenal, wasn't it?" McCaffery said of Garza. "You watch him run and attack the glass at both ends, every possession. He was moving without the ball very well. Posting hard.

"He was infectious to the rest of the team."

So was the passing. Eleven Hawkeyes were credited with at least one assist.

Iowa resumes Big Ten Conference play by hosting Michigan at 6 p.m. Tuesday.