IOWA CITY — For the Iowa basketball program, sharing the ball has never been better than it was Friday night in a dominant 98-75 win against Northern Illinois.
The Hawkeyes (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) tied a program record for assists in a game with 34 as a team, including every made basket in the second half. Quick passing with purposeful movement helped the Iowa offense stay ahead of an NIU team (7-6) that was chasing right from the start.
Iowa players said after the game they’ve seen it like that in practice, but never in a game — and certainly not this year. The second half’s 16 assists on 16 made shots in particular was something head coach Fran McCaffery was proud of. Add that to the fact that Iowa shot 66.7 percent in the first half — 20 of 30 overall and 7 of 12 from 3-point range — which included the Hawkeyes opening on a 16-2 run, and the game — Iowa’s fifth win in a row — never really was in doubt.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened in a game I’ve been involved in,” McCaffery said. “I’m really proud of the guys’ continuing unselfishness.
“There’s been a few (times we’ve shot it that well) at various places. It’s always nice to get off to a nice start like that, where everyone is feeling it. We were up 16-2. I’d like to start every game 16-2 if we could.”
McCaffery’s wry grin after that last bit was in keeping with a game in which the Hawkeyes got to grin quite a lot.
Iowa players talked at length about how that kind of ball movement affects the rest of what the Hawkeyes do. Not only was it effective in finding ways to score, but Iowa took care of the ball in that effort, too. The Hawkeyes had eight turnovers, and four of those came in the final 10 minutes.
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The difference between the way the Hawkeyes worked the ball — regardless of caliber of opponent — in Friday’s game compared to several others this year was stark. Point guard Jordan Bohannon once again put that on himself and said how his play and the patience he shows — especially early — can change things for the better.
“Tying a program record kind of speaks for itself, but we were really smart with our passes, pushing the ball in transition but not really forcing anything,” Bohannon said. “We didn’t make that many silly mistakes or live-ball turnovers.
“(The difference), starting with me, was trying to force things at the start of the game (in other games). These last couple games, I’ve started letting the game come to me a little more. When I’m doing that, I think our team runs better.”
Bohannon’s stat line backs that up. He had just five points, but had seven assists (for the fifth time this season) with no turnovers.
The sophomore found several teammates, but it was Tyler Cook to begin with that set the tone for Iowa. They connected on an alley-oop early, Cook — along with the other forwards — got post feeds that set him up to be successful, and he converted.
Cook finished with 17 points, three rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes. He ended up being one-upped in the efficiency department, though, as Luka Garza led the Hawkeyes with 25 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes Friday.
Perhaps Cook’s biggest contribution Friday, though, was in the midrange game. The 6-foot-9 sophomore shot 6 of 7 from the field and hit all his shots from 15 to 18 feet — something the public hadn’t seen in a game from him yet. Cook said that aspect to his game, “opens up the floor not only myself but the rest of the guys too because I get guys to close out and I can make plays for myself and other guys. The more I take and make that shot, the more I think it can open things up for myself and my guys.”
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His head coach agreed. Headed into the resumption of Big Ten play, adding a Cook midrange jumper to the improvement in ball movement will be vital.
“That’s a game-changer for us if he’s doing that, it really is,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can make that shot, but if you’ve got a guy who’s a handful in the post who’s also making that shot and finding people, now you’re really putting them in a box.”
There was one briefly scary moment in Friday’s game, though.
Before the game, Cook predicted sophomore guard Maishe Dailey would “catch a body” – basketball slang for dunking on someone – against the Huskies. Dailey laughed in confirming that was true. The only issue was in the course of finishing that and-1 dunk, Dailey was fouled hard.
It initially appeared as though Dailey fell and hit his head, and Dailey couldn’t remember exactly when or how his head was hit. He said he had to ask someone if he made the dunk. McCaffery clarified after the game it was contact from the defender that led Dailey to head to the locker room to be examined. McCaffery actually went out to Dailey on the floor while he was down, which is atypical of McCaffery for an injured player – usually deferring to a training staff member.
He was cleared to go back in the game, but McCaffery held him out in a game that was decided.
“I wasn’t going to until I saw him hold his head – when I saw that, that’s when I went out,” McCaffery said. “I asked the official if he hit his head on the floor and he said no, that he got hit on the dunk – he went for the block and hit (Dailey) on the head. It was an amazing play.”
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