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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa senior center Ryan Kriener was happy to deliver a message to his younger brother, Tyler, after Sunday’s victory over Kennesaw State.

Kriener had scored 15 points in a game three times in his career, but never more. Tyler takes every chance to remind him.

"It’s kind of been a joke between us that once I hit 15, I’ll always miss a free throw and come out of the game,” Kriener said.

The joke will have to be retired. Kriener put up 20 points, making all nine of his shots and his lone free throw, as the Hawkeyes pummeled the Owls 93-51 before the first sold-out crowd of the season.

Many of the fans may have come to see the "Star Wars" characters who posed for pictures in the concourse. If they stayed long enough, they saw Kriener pose for a long time while hanging from the rim after a second-half dunk that punctuated this win.

“It’s pretty rewarding, because you work hard just to be efficient,” Kriener said of his perfect shooting “It’s a huge part of this game. You shoot it to make it, so it’s always good to see it go in.”

Kriener showed his versatility, canning an early 3-pointer. His 16th and 17th points came on a nifty hook shot he swished while moving through the lane.

Starting center Luka Garza added 23 points as Iowa (10-3) ended its nonconference schedule by putting up an astounding 64 points in the paint.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Kriener’s bigger value is actually on the defensive end. Iowa limited Kennesaw State (1-12) to 28.6% shooting and 20 points in the second half, collecting season-highs in both steals (14) and blocked shots (8).

“He blows up actions that he knows through scouting that they’re going to run,” McCaffery said of the 6-foot-10 Kriener. “He takes advantage of his length and his experience.”

Hawkeyes in strong shape, and it shows

Iowa had only one chance to breathe on its schedule between Nov. 28 and whenever the season ends in March. That was Sunday, the ultimate tuneup game for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa was in tune, all right.

It was a far cry from Iowa’s Dec. 29 game of a year ago, when Bryant College came into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and pushed the Hawkeyes to the end before falling 72-67.

Garza said that game was mentioned often in the lead-up to this one. Kriener said there was no secret to why Iowa performed so well in winning a fourth consecutive game.

“This is probably our best shape that we’ve been in coming off of winter break physically, cardio-wise. People were getting in workouts when they were home,” he said.

“After you take five days off, you don’t see each other, you can go backwards a little bit. And I think we did a really good job of staying right where we were. Everyone came back in good shape.”

The Hawkeyes were coming off a stretch in which they went 5-2 against top-level competition, with only one of those games played at home. After this comes 18 Big Ten Conference games. And then tournament play.

So it was no wonder the Hawkeyes enjoyed this one so much.

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Joe Toussaint ditches his old shoes, gets his groove back

Iowa freshman point guard Joe Toussaint made his first start Dec. 21 against Cincinnati, and nothing went his way. There were three turnovers, three fouls and no points in 4 minutes.

He spoke to his mother, Satuyee. He got some advice from his older brothers, Chris and Brian.

They all told him to slow down. Satuyee added that he should change his sneakers.

“Don’t let anybody take your confidence,” Toussaint said he heard from his mom.

The shoes had already been changed. They were too slippery. Toussaint said he’ll keep them for show, but never wear them again in a basketball game.

He heeded the rest of the advice, too. Toussaint played 22 minutes Sunday and finished with a career-high seven assists and five steals. He added six points.

“He would have settled down in the Cincinnati game. But he got in foul trouble," McCaffery said. "Bakari (Evelyn) was playing extremely well. So he was kind of the odd man out down the stretch. But I think he grew up from that experience."

"I thought he really controlled the game (Sunday).”

Toussaint was pesky on defense as Iowa scored 34 points off of 24 Owl turnovers.

“I just tried to read the point guard’s eyes,” Toussaint said. “I tried to bluff at him and I knew that he would leave his feet. So when he left his feet I just tried to figure out where the ball was going next.”

Usually, he was there to grab it.

Finally, a big home crowd

Fans had been slow to warm to the Hawkeyes in the early going. It didn’t help that the team had only two home games in December.

McCaffery was happy to see his players greeted by a capacity house announced at 15,056. He hopes it becomes the norm.

“Great feeling I think for our guys in particular when they come out of the tunnel and they look up and they see the whole place full,” McCaffery said. “I think it’s a credit to what they’ve accomplished to this point. Our fans responded to them.

“I think fans look for something over the holidays to do and they showed up in force.”

Iowa has nine home games remaining, starting with Maryland on Jan. 10 and including Michigan (Jan. 17), Wisconsin (Jan. 27) and Ohio State (Feb. 20). If the Hawkeyes keep winning, it’s a safe bet the fans will keep showing up, even without Star Wars characters.

Iowa next plays Penn State in Philadelphia on Jan. 4

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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