No. 25 Hawkeyes win with defense, clamping down on Buckeyes' star
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men’s basketball team had a strong game plan for guarding Ohio State star center Kaleb Wesson on Saturday.
But even Hawkeye sophomore Luka Garza didn’t think he’d be looking at a box score that showed Wesson with a measly two points. He’d scored at least eight points in every game this season and was averaging 17.
“We knew the best way to guard him was to try to get him off the floor, get him early fouls. So we tried to attack him,” Garza said after the No. 25 Hawkeyes clamped down on the No. 17 Buckeyes and earned a 72-62 victory before an announced crowd of 14,528 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“No team has guarded him that well. When we watched him on film, he’s been killing teams.”
Wesson sat for 10 minutes in the first half after getting two early fouls. He played just 23 minutes in all. He turned the ball over five times.
Iowa (14-3, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) has won three games in a row. And this one was clearly about defense. Yes, defense.
The Buckeyes (12-4, 2-3) shot just 37 percent and committed 21 turnovers against a punishing Hawkeye defense. They have lost three in a row.
“You’ve got to make him defend. You’ve got to run. Make him run and make him work. You’ve got to play him before he gets (the basketball). If you let him bury you deep and let him catch it, he’s virtually unstoppable,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of the plan of attack against the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Wesson.
“I wasn’t expecting him to get two (points), but I didn’t want him to get 20.”
Iowa outscored Ohio State 36-18 in the paint. Garza had 16 points. Power forward Tyler Cook had 15 before exiting late with an apparent ankle injury. Ryan Kriener came off the bench to add 11.
But it was the defensive effort that was most noteworthy, one season after the Buckeyes swept the Hawkeyes and made 52 percent of their shots in doing so.
The defense was so good that, even though the Hawkeyes could get nothing going on offense in the first half, they entered intermission trailing only 26-24.
Last season, an opponent would have had 40 points by halftime and the game would have been essentially over.
“When the offense started clicking, to keep that (defensive) mindset and to get a lead and get up by 12 and end up closing the game, that’s huge for us,” Garza said. “That’s a big step because last year at times when our defense was its worst is when our offense wasn’t clicking.”
The biggest concern for Iowa after the game was the health of Cook. The junior is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. He was not available for postgame interviews.
“He’s a little sore, as you probably figured,” McCaffery said of Cook, who was already battling an injury to his right knee. “So we’ll see how he does the next couple days.”
Iowa next plays at Penn State at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Bohannon reaches scoring milestone, but his assists were the story
Cook became the 47th Hawkeye to score 1,000 points in his career earlier this season. Point guard Jordan Bohannon joined him on that list late in Saturday’s game, draining a pair of free throws to get there. That was appropriate. Bohannon is a career 87.4 percent free-throw shooter and it was one he deliberately missed last year that earned him national attention.
“I smiled a little bit when I got to the free-throw line to have another accomplishment like that,” Bohannon said after joining older brothers Jason (Wisconsin) and Matt (Northern Iowa) in the 1,000-point club.
Bohannon finished with just six points, but his eight assists were key to a Hawkeye offense that finally got on track in the second half. It tied a season-high. He said afterward that he figured this matchup would require him to be more of a passer than shooter anyway.
“Normally, they’re up into us more. There’s a little more room to drive in the gaps,” Bohannon said of the Buckeyes.
“I was able to penetrate a lot (Saturday). I was able to get down low to the paint and kick it out to 3-point shooters.”
Iowa doubled its first-half point total with 48 in the second half. The Hawkeyes shot 35.7 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes and 55.6 percent after that. They made 16 of 20 free throws in the second half.
“He pushed the ball. We established the fact that we could run,” McCaffery said of Bohannon’s contribution to the offense.
Kriener and Garza show some shooting range
As awful as the first half was offensively for Iowa, imagine what things would have looked like without a seven-point outburst from Kriener. The junior reserve tossed in a jump hook, then a layup and finally drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Hawkeyes an 18-17 lead at a time when nothing was going right otherwise.
“We had a tough spell of turnovers back and forth,” Kriener said.
“The first jump hook really got me going and after that it was just having fun playing ball.”
The 3-pointer was his fifth of the season, after making only three in his first two years here. He said the long-range shot has always been part of his game.
“I didn’t show it a lot in high school (at Spirit Lake) just because it’s a lot easier just to sit next to the hoop and shoot 70 percent,” said Kriener, who is 6-foot-9.
This offseason, “Coach would tell me, ‘We recruited you here as a shooter, so shoot it for us,’” Kriener said.
He has been in double-figure scoring in three of the past four games. He had done so only once previously this season.
At the outset of the second half, it was Garza who gave the offense a timely jolt. He stepped outside to hit a jumper over Wesson, got a layup on a nice feed from Bohannon and then knocked down a 3-pointer, all in a span of 89 seconds. That one-man 7-0 run put the Hawkeyes in front for good at 35-30. And it opened things up for the entire offense.
Soon, Nicholas Baer and Joe Wieskamp started finding driving lanes to the basket.
“Wesson was sitting back so the high-low wasn’t really there,” Garza said. “They were really trying to pack it in the paint in the first half. We started hitting jumpers, spacing it out and we were able to attack it inside.”
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