Turnover-prone Hawkeyes finally get the message, grind out needed win vs. Cincinnati

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

CHICAGO, Ill. — What was said during a timeout with 7 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in Saturday’s basketball game, when Iowa seemed intent on handing away a victory?

And who did the talking?

There was a little disagreement about it all in the aftermath of a 77-70 Hawkeye win over Cincinnati at the United Center. The game was difficult to watch. It was certainly difficult for the Hawkeyes to endure.

But coach Fran McCaffery’s message clearly took hold. The Hawkeyes entered that timeout off of three consecutive turnovers and a lead that was once 15 points was down to 58-56. Earlier in the half, Iowa had turned the ball over six times while failing to score a point in an ugly stretch of 6 minutes, 10 seconds.

That is how teams lose games.

Instead, this is how Iowa won:

  • Ryan Kriener took a dribble and buried a determined jump shot to quell that Bearcats rally.
  • Joe Wieskamp knocked down a 3-pointer from the left elbow 19 seconds after Cincinnati took its only lead of the second half.
  • Bakari Evelyn faked a pass and then realized he was open enough to sink another 3 shortly after.
  • Luka Garza grabbed four big rebounds and blocked his career-high fifth shot of the game to keep Iowa in control down the stretch.
  • And the Hawkeyes finally started to value the basketball, committing only two turnovers in the final 8 minutes after coughing up 22 until that point.

Iowa (9-3) found a way to win in its first game after senior guard Jordan Bohannon’s season-ending hip surgery. And, ultimately, that was the most significant occurrence in a Chicago Legends matchup that was anything but legendary.

“After a timeout, we just kind of collectively came together and said: ‘Be strong with the ball.’ And we were never in doubt with each other. We stayed connected as a group,” Hawkeye freshman guard CJ Fredrick initially recalled of the conversations that occurred with 7:51 left.

Cincinnati center Jaume Sorolla, front, and forward Tre Scott (13) chase the ball as do Iowa center Luka Garza (55) and guard Joe Wieskamp (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Later, McCaffery corrected him.

“There wasn't a lot of talk,” McCaffery said. “There was a lot of listening.”

McCaffery used all eight of his available scholarship players (Riley Till didn’t make the trip due to illness). They each committed at least two turnovers. It was a collective breakdown.

“We just kind of got a little bit casual,” McCaffery said. “We were just passing the ball to the next guy. There was no purpose to it, and that's not like this group.”

Fredrick led Iowa with 21 points. Garza had a season-high 13 rebounds to go with his 12 points for a seventh double-double.

Iowa beat Cincinnati (8-5) by seven points for the second time in 2019, following a 79-72 win in March in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Evelyn has his finest Hawkeye hour when needed most

Freshman Joe Toussaint got his first career start at point guard in Bohannon’s place.

It did not last long.

Toussaint appeared to be on skates in the early minutes, slipping and sliding while committing a pair of turnovers and picking up a foul.

“We need to get him a new pair of shoes, apparently,” McCaffery quipped. “But he'll be great moving forward.”

Toussaint was pulled less than 3 minutes into the game with the Hawkeyes trailing 5-0. He did get some new shoes at halftime, but never found traction, committing another turnover and two more fouls to finish scoreless.

That’s what made Evelyn’s performance so vital. The graduate transfer from Valparaiso had not made much of an impression in Iowa’s first 10 games, making three 3-pointers total and scoring no more than five points in any outing.

On Saturday, Evelyn steadied things immediately, making a 3-pointer, then feeding Garza in the post for a basket and following with another 3. Suddenly, Iowa was ahead 8-7 and breathing easier.

“I just thought we were kind of out of rhythm. So I just tried to come in and give a spark any way I can,” Evelyn said.

Evelyn finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes. He made all four of his free throws.

His biggest shot was the one that gave Iowa a 68-64 lead with 3:53 left. The team seemed to calm down after that.

“I caught the ball. I was actually trying to swing it to CJ. He was hot all game," Evelyn said. "I think one of the defenders jumped the passing lane and left me wide open. So I just took a dribble and shot it.

“I think Ryan Kriener hit a big shot to get us going before that and I think it just carried on.”

As for Toussaint, even once he got the shoe issue resolved, McCaffery left him on the bench. He said it was because of how well Evelyn was playing.

“I really wanted to get him back in, but he'll settle down. He's a really good player. This is all part of the growth process,” McCaffery said of Toussaint. “He's young, but he's a competitor. He'll have an opportunity in the next one.”

Some positive stats to outweigh the negative

The 24 Iowa turnovers were a season-high, and more than double what the Hawkeyes averaged entering the game. Cincinnati turned them into 22 points. In addition, Iowa missed 10 of its first 25 free-throw attempts.

But the Hawkeyes dominated the glass, owning a 48-31 edge in rebounding. And their zone defense flummoxed the Bearcats, who hoisted 72 shots but seemed to rush many of them and made only 25 (34.7%).

“I thought they made us look small around the basket,” Cincinnati first-year coach John Brannen said. “We're fourth in the country in drawing fouls, and we couldn't draw fouls at the rim.”

Garza credited Iowa’s defense for keeping the game from getting away when its offense was faltering.

“Credit to everyone down in that zone that was moving around,” Garza said. “We had to rebound out of that zone, and I think we did a good job of that.”

McCaffery said the zone gave Iowa the best chance to defend Cincinnati, and especially its star guard Jarron Cumberland, who finished with 18 points.

“If you play zone, they're all right there in front of you. Where's Cumberland? He's right there. Okay? We don't have to worry about him coming through and coming back to the elbow, and they clear everybody out, and he's got an iso drive right. No, he's right there and we've got people in the gaps, so there's nowhere for him to drive to,” McCaffery said.

Hawkeyes finish an impressive stretch

Iowa concluded a seven-game stretch against strong competition with a 5-2 mark. Only one of those games was played in Carver-Hawkeye Arena (a win over Minnesota). The Hawkeyes won two at neutral sites (vs. Texas Tech and Cincinnati) and two on the road (at Syracuse and Iowa State). They did it despite losing power forward Jack Nunge for the season at the outset and Bohannon at the tail end.

This was good fodder for the resume come March. Iowa is well-positioned as long as it is competitive when league play picks back up in January. A loss Saturday would have been damaging.

“It's a good lesson for us going forward, just to make sure that that can't happen again,” Garza said of the turnovers. “And if it does, we still find a way to pull the win out. You got to win the ugly ones, too.”

Iowa next hosts Kennesaw State on Dec. 29.

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.

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