Leistikow: No. 3 Hawkeyes got the test they needed from North Carolina ... and passed

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The third-ranked Iowa basketball team showed the nation and its fans Tuesday night that it’s more than just a one-man show.

For the first time in 20 games, Luka Garza didn’t score at least 20 points.

In fact, Garza’s last two points against No. 14 North Carolina came with 10 minutes, 52 seconds to play.

And the Hawkeyes were fine.

Garza’s supporting cast was the starring cast in a resounding 93-80 win against the Tar Heels in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“That’s the reason I came back (to Iowa),” said Garza, the preseason national player of the year. “I wanted to be a part of this group. I knew the potential of this team and the guys we have around me.”

Takeaways:No. 3 Hawkeyes show off their shooting to fend off No. 14 North Carolina

Joe Toussaint scores on a reverse layup during Iowa's 14-0 second-half run that turned a 68-67 deficit into an 81-68 lead with 6:57 to go.

Garza had scored 102 points in Iowa’s first three games (a 34.0 average), all against teams that had no answer for the 6-foot-11 center’s inside-outside game.

Turns out, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon were just biding their time. That trio combined to attempt 30 3-pointers against North Carolina, and they made 17 of them. To put that in perspective, Iowa’s team school record for 3s in a game is 19 — against Savannah State in 2018. Three guys just combined to drain 17 against a team coached by Roy Williams.

Bohannon finished with 24 points, his highest total since a stirring win at Indiana on Feb. 7, 2019, and doled out six assists.

Fredrick matched his career high with 21 points on an efficient 8-for-11 shooting night.

Wieskamp had a terrific all-around game, with 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists. 

“We've been capable of that all year,” said Wieskamp, who buried four 3-pointers in the game’s first 7:07 to help stake Iowa to a 25-9 lead against the Carolina blue bloods. “The first three teams that we played couldn't really match (Garza) in the post.

“But we knew that as the season went on — especially North Carolina with a lot of bigs and the Big Ten’s got a lot of good bigs, as well — (that) our guards have got to come ready to play, every game.”

Everyone was ready Tuesday night, even after a 43-30 halftime lead slipped away.

North Carolina twice clawed back to take one-point leads. But their time in front was brief. That was a reassuring sight for Fran McCaffery.

“There was no panic in that huddle, no panic on the bench. No panic by anybody on the floor,” the 11th-year Iowa coach said. "… If anybody panics when they take the lead, they go up nine and then we have a hard time. We took the lead right back and we extended it.”

Did they ever.

After Carolina jumped ahead 68-67 with 9½ minutes left, the Hawkeyes answered with the type of run that probably made the players wish that more than just families and media were at Carver-Hawkeye. Because the House that Lute Built would’ve been rocking.

Bohannon kick-started what would become a 14-0 flurry by burying a long 3-pointer from the right wing, with a man in his face — the kind of clutch shot he’s made commonplace in his five seasons on campus. 70-68, Iowa.

After Carolina missed an easy layup, Bohannon found Joe Toussaint on a beautiful back-door cut, and the speedy Toussaint flew under the hoop for a reverse lay-in to make it 72-68.

Garza tried to extend the lead with a reverse layup of his own. The attempt missed, but no worries. Freshman Keegan Murray flew through the air to tip it in, drawing a foul — and making the free throw after a media timeout — for good measure. Murray's only three points in 6½ minutes were big ones, putting Iowa ahead, 75-68.

“He's one of those X-factor guys that we need to have to be great this year,” Bohannon said. “That’s what a lot of great teams have; guys that know their roles and play (limited) minutes. But when they’re out there, they’re going to give us 110%. That offensive rebound put-back he had was a huge momentum shift.”

Keegan Murray, left, crashed the offensive glass for a key putback in the second half to help Iowa to a 75-68 lead.

Wieskamp continued the run, pump-faking a 3 attempt from the right corner. He slid one step to his left and buried it. 78-68.

Finally, Bohannon delivered a dagger — a left-wing 3 off an assist from Toussaint. Bohannon held his follow through as he released the shot, knowing it was going to swish. And it did. He hollered toward his Hawkeye teammates on the bench as the lead swelled to 81-68.

Fourteen points in 116 seconds.

Just like that, the Hawkeyes were again in control. Carolina got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

Garza had an off night by his lofty standards — 16 points on 6-for-20 shooting from the floor, 4-for-8 from the line. But he still was a major factor, pulling down 14 rebounds, blocking four shots and drawing eight of North Carolina’s 18 fouls to help get three of their big men in foul trouble.

This was the Hawkeyes’ first test of many to come in this 2020-21 season. Coronavirus cooperation pending, of course.

They’re 4-0 now. Iowa State comes to town Friday, then Northern Illinois visits on Sunday. If all goes well, the Hawkeyes will be 6-0 entering a showdown with No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 19. Three days later, Big Ten play begins.

“We played well, but we know we’re going to have a season full of tests,” Wieskamp said. “Each night’s going to be a battle. It’s early. It’s a great win. But it’s on to the next one.”

The on-court celebration afterward was subdued for a team that just took down the nation’s 14th-ranked team by double digits. But this is a team with national-championship designs — something Bohannon reiterated Tuesday night. Winning this game like this was expected.

But the Hawkeyes also can be reassured that, yes, they can beat good teams when Garza isn’t at his best.

“Trust me, there was celebration in the locker room,” Garza said. “But as a team, we’re focused on getting better every single day. And today we got better.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.