CJ Fredrick returns, efficient Hawkeyes overwhelm Northwestern for first Big Ten road win

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

EVANSTON, Ill. — Iowa players vowed that they would never have another shooting night like they had last week at Nebraska, when they made just 4 of 33 3-point attempts in a humbling loss.

On this night on the Big Ten Conference road, they were certainly right.

The 24th-ranked Hawkeyes canned 10 3-pointers on 22 attempts (45.5%) and were ultra-efficient in pulling away from helpless Northwestern, 75-62, at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Hawkeyes averaged had 24 assists on 26 made baskets and committed just seven turnovers. 

"Our ball movement tonight was especially good," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "... And we took open shots."

The result: Iowa's first conference road win of the season in four tries, and it was a feelgood night all the way around.

CJ Fredrick was the difference-maker we thought he was.

It’s frustrating for Hawkeye fans, coaches and players to think about what could have been if Fredrick hadn’t suffered a stress reaction in his left foot. With him, there’s a good chance Iowa would've beaten Penn State and Nebraska instead of losing to them earlier this month.

But, at least he's back now. His surprise return Tuesday indeed showed his value.

The redshirt freshman from Kentucky had a few good health days and wanted to give it a go. And McCaffery sure let him go. Fredrick dropped in three first-half 3-pointers, all in the final 7:10, to score his first points of the new year. It was courteous of Northwestern’s defense to leave him open.

Fredrick, who entered as a 50% 3-point shooter (23-for-46), finished with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting and five assists. Maybe most surprisingly, McCaffery let him play 31 minutes.

“This whole week has been kind of crazy. (Monday), I was like, 'Coach, I’m feeling good. How about I try one segment?’ Went in. And then, started and played 31," Fredrick said. "I have no words either. It was good to be back. I had a lot of fun."

His foot will be continually evaluated, but this was a good sign — a very good sign — that he's going to be a factor for the Hawkeyes going forward.

“They almost treat it like tendinitis. You’re going to have good days, you’re going to have bad days," Fredrick said. "We’re just going to keep treating it and see how it goes.”

Luka Garza got some much-needed rest, but it wasn’t by design.

The Big Ten’s leading scorer (now at 22.3 points a game) has been the Hawkeyes' catalyst and consistently shouldering 35 minutes a night in conference play. On Tuesday, though, he was parked next to McCaffery for extended stretches with foul trouble. He picked up his third just 22 seconds into the second half, but the Hawkeyes played well with Ryan Kriener playing the 5.

Kriener had his first double-digit scoring night in Big Ten play this season (10 points, 4-of-5 shooting).

And when Garza came back with 11:45 remaining, he kicked it into gear, scoring Iowa's next 14 points in a stretch of 4:06 to inflate the lead from 51-46 to 65-50.

"Coach told me to stay composed after I got my third one ... I feel like I got a couple cheap ones," Garza said. "That stuff happens, especially on the road. I think I did a better job responding to it than I did the first time (in foul trouble) this season at San Diego State."

He was unstoppable. For the night, he finished with a game-high 27 points and, oddly for him, only three rebounds. 

And, good news, the Hawkeyes were OK without his usual 35-minute night. He wound up playing 24 minutes, by far his lowest in a Big Ten game.

Bakari Evelyn and Chicago go well together.

Here’s the most bizarre stat of the season.

In Evelyn’s two games in the Windy City this season, he’s scored a combined 23 points. In the other 15 games, he has a total of 22.

Evelyn, the graduate transfer from Valparaiso, gave Iowa a first-half lift with Joe Toussaint quiet and Connor McCaffery in mild foul trouble. He pushed through a pair of first-half 3-pointers and made a dazzling one-handed drive through the lane to help Iowa to a 41-35 halftime lead.

Evelyn finished with eight points and a team-high seven assists against Northwestern, after having scored three total points in Iowa’s first five Big Ten games.

"I don't know what it is (about Chicago)," he joked. "That's a good thing, though."

Evelyn’s only other similar outburst happened across town, in the United Center. He scored 15 points with seven rebounds and four assists in the Hawkeyes’ 77-70 neutral-site game against Cincinnati.

McCaffery is giving Evelyn more rope — he played a season-high 30 minutes against Maryland — and the fifth-year senior is responding well to it.

“He’s incredibly cerebral. To be able to effectively play the positions that he’s played and do the things we’ve asked him to do, is a credit to who he is," McCaffery said. "We’re really fortunate to have him, especially this year with so much injury. You can just plug him in anywhere.”

Up next: Relief. 

As in three straight home games for a team that's played nine of its last 12 away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The 24th-ranked Hawkeyes improved to 12-5 overall, 3-3 in Big Ten play. They'll not travel again until a Jan. 30 game at Maryland, with upcoming home dates Friday against Michigan, Jan. 22 vs. Rutgers and Jan. 27 vs. Wisconsin.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.