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No. 6 Iowa beats North Carolina Central 97-67. Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It had been 8½ months since the Iowa men's basketball team played a game that counted, and that was bad news for North Carolina Central.

Led, as usual, by center Luka Garza, the Hawkeyes went on a 14-0 run late in the first half to pull away from the Eagles for a 97-67 victory Wednesday at an abnormally quiet Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa enters the season ranked sixth in the nation, with all-American Garza as the centerpiece of a team getting national buzz. He was too much for North Carolina Central in the season opener, putting up 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in just 24 minutes.

But the return of point guard Jordan Bohannon from surgery and the re-emergence of small forward Patrick McCaffery were two other significant storylines on display Wednesday.

He's back, and in better shape than ever. Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon sank this 3-pointer over North Carolina Central's Mike Melvin in the first half Wednesday. But it was the fact that Bohannon, coming off a second hip surgery, played 17 first-half minutes without seeming to get tired that should most excite Hawkeye fans.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was also able to play all five of his true freshmen late, and each of them recorded their first collegiate points.

All went according to script for Iowa, which finished 20-11 last season and then saw its postseason hopes wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. The only fans in attendance were family members of the players, but it was evident that the Hawkeyes, veterans and rookies alike, were thrilled to be playing basketball again.

Here’s what we learned:

Bohannon looks refreshed

Iowa senior point guard Jordan Bohannon said he was in the best shape of his career on his two surgically repaired hips. And that certainly seemed to be the case. Bohannon, who is down to 175 pounds at 6-foot-1, missed his first three 3-point attempts before connecting on a pair late in the first half.

But what was more impressive was the effortlessly way he moved with and without the basketball. Bohannon grabbed five defensive rebounds, contributed a pair of assists and a steal in addition to those six points. He also played 17 first-half minutes, never seeming to tire.

Bohannon is at the stage of his career where he knows how to impact games far beyond just launching 3-pointers (he's Iowa's all-time leader with 286 successful treys). And that is a huge addition to a team contending for a championship.

There's a new McCaffery in town

Patrick McCaffery waited 12 months and 25 pounds to get back into a college basketball game, and the 6-foot-9 forward made the most of it. The middle son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery missed all but two games as a freshman when he had some complications from the cancer he overcame as a teenager.

Inserted early in the game, Patrick McCaffery was positioned at the point of a Hawkeye press and immediately stole a pass in the backcourt. He missed that layup, but made three others and added a pair of free throws to provide eight first-half points and help Iowa turn the game in its favor for good.

Patrick McCaffery added two offensive rebounds, an assist, a blocked shot and a steal in 11 first-half minutes. He’s energetic and dynamic on the offensive end. He will make a big difference on the wing this season.

Earlier:Iowa recruit Patrick McCaffery hones his elite offensive skills as he prepares to join his dad

Keegan Murray is the top freshman

With Iowa power forward/center Jack Nunge in Indiana attending the funeral of his father, Mark, Fran McCaffery needed some frontcourt help. And he quickly turned to true freshman Keegan Murray, who has impressed Fran McCaffery throughout the summer and fall.

Fans got a quick sense of why. Murray scored a putback basket, then had a nice assist on a Luka Garza bank shot. At 6-8, Murray was able to hold his own inside defensively against a smaller North Carolina Central lineup. He added a pair of rebounds in 8 first-half minutes, during which he was plus-17. It was not a coincidence that the Hawkeyes seized control of the game when Patrick McCaffery and Murray were on the floor.

The most impressive aspect of Murray’s game may have been how confident he looked while getting his first playing time at the major-college level. His role will no doubt diminish when Nunge returns, but he will certainly be needed again this season, maybe more often than you’d expect for a rookie on a team full of veterans.

Next up: Southern

Iowa next hosts Southern at 4 p.m. Friday. That game also will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.