IOWA CITY — If nothing else, the Iowa men’s basketball team got to have some more fun Sunday than in the last two weeks.
The Hawkeyes cruised in the second half to a 91-60 win against Southern, and even if it came against a team not to the caliber of the Big Ten, ACC or Big 12, they cleaned up most of the issues they faced in four straight losses.
At least for a day — and more specifically, the end of the first half and start of the second half — Iowa was the team it’s wanted to be. With just seven total turnovers and only one in the second half, the Hawkeyes moved the ball better, shared it for scores and did what they were supposed to as heavy favorites.
“We really made (turnovers) a focal point, and you could tell,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We shared it. We didn’t quick-shoot it. … I thought our ball movement was good.
“Definitely, when you look at it and see seven turnovers, that’s a number that hasn’t been there in a while. It’s been in double-digits. We need to continue that trend.”
The best example of Iowa (5-6, 0-2 Big Ten) recovering from recent struggles was freshman Luka Garza.
In the four straight losses, Garza had a total of 18 points and 14 rebounds. In the Hawkeyes’ first two losses in the Cayman Islands, he had four total points and 15 rebounds. On Sunday, Garza had a career-high 23 points and tied a career-high with 13 rebounds. In Iowa’s six losses, Garza has averaged 3.7 points and 4.8 rebounds. In Iowa’s five victories, those numbers jump to 15.4 points and 9.4 rebounds.
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He also did his best work in the first half while playing with two fouls. Garza checked in the game at 15:03 of the first half, and had four points and one rebound before subbing out with two fouls at 10:22 to go. He then sat until 5:11 to go. From there, he had 10 points and seven rebounds to end the half. If McCaffery had stuck with his normal policy of sitting players with two fouls in the first half — something Tyler Cook had to deal with — the Hawkeyes’ first half could’ve been very different.
It was an immensely personally satisfying game, Garza said, considering he’d been removed from the starting lineup for the Iowa State game.
“No matter what, I’m going to come in with energy, but I knew we were kind of going through a struggle and coach needed to switch things up and try to get a groove,” Garza said. “As long as we’re winning, everyone’s happy. I definitely played with more confidence. … I was playing more like myself.
“Anybody, when they’re struggling, to have a game like this is very good for your confidence and everything like that.”
The game was not without its lumps. The Hawkeyes trailed by six with 8:28 to go in the first half, and had six turnovers that led to 11 points in those opening 20 minutes. Cook got a technical — his fourth foul — after a reverse pivot, left-handed dunk that was followed by a scream in the direction of the defender he had just dunked on.
When asked if he was OK with Cook showing that kind of emotion after a dunk like that, McCaffery said, “not when he’s got three fouls, no. I pointed that out to him,” followed by a wry grin.
But marked improvement in ball movement and rotations on defense made things much easier for Iowa.
In addition to Garza’s big game, Isaiah Moss added 12 points, two rebounds and two assists, with no turnovers, on 4 of 9 shooting from 3-point range. Jack Nunge had 11 points, two rebounds, two assists and four blocks. Maishe Dailey had nine points on 3 of 6 shooting from 3, four rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes, which ties a season-high for him.
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Iowa also saw Connor McCaffery make his regular-season debut, finishing with five points, four assists and three rebounds in 17 minutes — far more than he expected to play. Connor and Fran McCaffery both said his recovery still has a ways to go, and Connor added what needs the most work right now is, “strengthening my legs, my quads, my hamstrings, my explosiveness — just feeling confident. I might be there, but I don’t feel it the way I should, firing my muscles the way (I should) because I spent too much time away, not doing anything.”
For the Hawkeyes, just getting a win, no matter who it was against, was needed in a variety of ways.
“When all the juices are flowing and you’re playing with that much energy, it’s fun,” Garza said. “We know we’re going to face more, tougher teams, and we just needed some confidence. Everyone hates losing. The trips home have been terrible. Everyone has been upset and not talking (during the trip). We hate that. We just keep showing up; we know it’s going to come.”
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