In beating Cincinnati on Dec. 21 in its first game without senior point guard Jordan Bohannon, Iowa showed its season could still be a good one.
Bohannon is out for the season after undergoing hip surgery.
When the No. 25 Hawkeyes return to action Sunday against Kennesaw State in their last nonconference game, they’ll have a good chance to build confidence and chip rust off at the same time before they get into the meat of their Big Ten schedule.
At 9-3 overall, Iowa appears to have another solid team, even without the experienced hand of Bohannon running the offense and hitting big shots. Luka Garza, a 6-foot-11 junior, has emerged as a dominant low-post presence.
The 77-70 victory over Cincinnati in Chicago was a prime example. The Bearcats clearly wanted to take away Garza and limited him to 12 points, far under his average of 21.5. But five different Hawkeyes combined for 11 3-pointers on 24 attempts, creating a pick-your-poison scenario under which most opponents can’t win.
“We met the challenge,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We hit some big shots, got some big stops, dominated the glass, forced them to low-percentage shooting, and we moved and drove the ball enough to get the win.”
Redshirt freshman CJ Fredrick bagged 21 points while Joe Wieskamp added 16 and graduate transfer Bakari Evelyn scored a season-high 15 points. Evelyn, who averaged 8.4 points last season at Valparaiso, managed only 16 points in his first 11 games as a Hawkeye.
“He was the star tonight, and he’ll do that again,” McCaffery said.
Evelyn and the rest of the Hawkeyes’ perimeter shooters figure to get plenty of chances to bomb away on Sunday. Kennesaw State (1-11) has no one taller than 6-9 or heavier than 235 pounds, which means it’ll have to run multiple defenders at the 260-pound Garza and hope Iowa can’t connect.
The Owls have played nine of their first 12 games away from home and have been blown out of most of them. Every road or neutral-site loss has been by at least 12 points, opponents exploiting poor first-shot defense to the tune of 46.1 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range.
Kennesaw State last played on Dec. 22, losing 83-70 at home to Wofford despite a career-high 21 points from freshman Terrell Burden. It was actually one of the Owls’ best offensive showings of the season, as they are averaging less than 57 points per game.
“There are no moral victories in our program,” said first-year Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, “but when you are building a program and establishing a culture, I think small victories are really important. We’re getting better.”
The Owls will be playing a ranked team and a team from one of the five power conferences for the first time this season. The low point in the season might have come on Dec. 18, an 83-44 loss at Belmont in which Kennesaw State shot 32.3 percent from the field, committed 19 turnovers and made just 2 of 17 3-point attempts.
–Field Level Media