Down two more players, short-handed Hawkeyes bury Syracuse in Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Iowa basketball team took the Carrier Dome court short-handed but undeterred.

Behind a spirited effort of eight healthy scholarship players, they left with an impressive win.

Luka Garza scored 23 points and Jordan Bohannon added 17 as the Hawkeyes ran away from Syracuse, 68-54, for their second signature victory in less than a week.

Iowa upended then-No. 12 Texas Tech at last week’s Las Vegas Invitational. And on Tuesday, playing without CJ Fredrick and Cordell Pemsl, they just added the program’s second road win in the history of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“I love the adversity," said Garza, who pulled down nine rebounds and shot 9-for-15 from the floor. "When odds are stacked against us, that’s ... when the animals come out. I think we did a great job of that tonight.”

Garza worked his magic inside, while Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp (13 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals) did their work outside. Iowa hoisted 34 3-pointers, making 11 of them.

When the Hawkeyes were hanging around despite some ugly first-half play, Garza was encouraged. Iowa eked out a 30-29 halftime lead.

“I thought that favored us. Missing shots, we’re not the type of team that’s going to keep missing shots," Garza said. "And the defense we were playing on them, I just felt really confident that at some point we were going to hit a couple shots and the game was going to break open.”

In the second half, the Hawkeys shot 52% and committed only four turnovers. That's winning basketball.

“I don’t think we really took a bad shot the entire night," Bohannon said. "We worked the ball really well.”

In doing so, Iowa improved to 7-12 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Hawkeyes (6-2) don’t have much time to celebrate. They open the Big Ten Conference season Friday at fourth-ranked Michigan.

Now that would be a signature win.

It took a while, but Bohannon heated up … to Syracuse's demise.

Bohannon knew he would have a chance to launch a slew of 3-pointers against Syracuse’s renowned 2-3 zone. He certainly didn’t dream he would miss his first six attempts.

The most prolific 3-point shooter in Iowa history, though, eventually got hot. With the shot clock down to the final ticks, Bohannon buried a contested 24-footer with 3:03 left in the first half for his first points. He motioned after the make as if to say, “About (darn) time.”

What was he actually thinking?

Something pretty close to that.

“I was pissed, honestly. I probably had four of five I thought were going in in the first half," Bohannon said. "I came into this game thinking I was going to be able to get nine to 10 3s.

"I had to keep shooting. It’s kind of the mentality I’ve always had. Kobe (Bryant) said in an interview, 'I’m going to go 0-for-40 before I’m going to go 0-for-8.'”

Bohannon blistered the nets for three 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and that coincided with Iowa starting to pull away. He finished with five 3-pointers, the most he's had in a game since Feb. 22 against Indiana, on 14 attempts.

Bohannon was beginning a pivotal four-game, 10-day stretch as he ponders whether to continue through hip pain in his senior season … or opt to apply for a medical-hardship waiver and return in 2020-21.

"I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to provide for this team coming into the season, but I knew I wanted to provide a couple signature wins for this team," Bohannon said. "(I've been) trying not to make this all about me; it’s about the team getting wins. That’s what my focus has been."

Down to eight healthy scholarship players, Fran McCaffery leaned on a core four.

Bohannon, Garza, Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery each played 36 minutes. They were the planned workhorses, considering the Hawkeyes added starting shooting guard Fredrick (quadriceps) and reserve forward Pemsl (back) to the growing injured list before the game.

Fredrick suffered a quadriceps injury last week against San Diego State and tried to go through warmups but it was clear he was laboring. Trainer Brad Floy made the call just before tip-off that Fredrick wasn't ready.

McCaffery afterward said of Fredrick's status, "I like his chances (to play) Friday, but we'll see."

Fredrick’s loss was more significant for this particular matchup, considering he would have faced Syracuse’s zone. Fredrick is shooting 56.5% (13 of 23) from 3-point range this season and was averaging 15.7 points and 4.0 assists in Iowa’s previous three games.

His absence meant elevated roles for backup guards Joe Toussaint and Bakari Evelyn. Both players had nice moments in the first half, with Evelyn swishing a top-of-the-key 3 to give Iowa 17-16 lead, and Toussaint outracing Syracuse for a fast-break bucket that put Iowa up, 20-19.

Ryan Kriener, making the start in Fredrick's place, contributed five first-half rebounds.

But Fran McCaffery rode the group of Bohannon, McCaffery, Evelyn, Wieskamp and Garza from the 12:57 mark until removing Garza, Wieskamp and Evelyn in the final minute. That group gradually extended Iowa's lead from 47-38 to 68-52.

“The second half, Jim (Boeheim) took a couple timeouts and there were a couple media timeouts, so our guys were a little bit rested," Fran McCaffery said. "Then Toussaint got his (third) foul, and I rode that last group. Bakari, I thought he was great. And I thought Kriener was terrific in the first half. The guys that we sort of expect to play well played well."

Riley Till, a former walk-on who was elevated to scholarship status this season, also got into the act. Till provided some hustle rebounds in the first half that gave Iowa extra opportunities. He didn't score but provided 10 much-needed minutes.

“It’s a big win for us, especially the first true road win … with some of our best players out," Wieskamp said. "Everyone did a good job stepping up. Riley Till hasn’t played much all season and came in there and gave us his best effort.”