The Iowa men’s basketball team didn’t have the Cayman Islands Classic it wanted.
But while the losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State left the Hawkeyes with plenty to work on, they did manage to leave there with one win — a 95-85 triumph against Alabama-Birmingham — in which its two most important players stepped up when needed.
Led by career-highs from both Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook, Iowa turned around what had been a dismal trip to a beautiful place. Bohannon finished with 30 points, four assists, was 9 of 12 overall and 6 of 8 from 3-point range. Cook had 29 points and six rebounds on 6 of 8 shooting and 13 of 16 from the free throw line.
It was Bohannon’s four straight 3-pointers near the end of the first half that seemed to snap Iowa out of its funk, turning a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead at halftime.
“He put us on his back and put us ahead,” head coach Fran McCaffery told the FloHoops broadcast team after the game.
Bohannon has been forced into playing more minutes than Iowa had hoped he would in these early games, if only — as Bohannon and McCaffery have said — to keep him fresher for Big Ten play. But with Connor McCaffery being sidelined with mononucleosis following Christian Williams’ departure, the Hawkeyes guard depth has taken a bit of a hit.
That made Bohannon’s performance Wednesday all the more important, coupled with what happened the previous two days.
“I thought he was tremendous in all aspects,” Fran McCaffery said of Bohannon, in audio provided by Iowa. “He really ran the offense well. Anytime a guy makes six 3s, that’s what you sort of focus on, but I thought they came after him. They rotated guys on him, they were physical with him. We wanted to go inside to Luka (Garza) and to Tyler (Cook). Those guys both had big games. But it all starts with your point guard.”
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Iowa struggled on defense throughout the first two games in the Cayman Islands, as well as at points on Wednesday — the most glaring struggle — but the Hawkeyes also never were all that “connected” offensively, according to McCaffery, until Wednesday.
The ball seemed to move better and with it the offense. McCaffery lauded better execution and that “you want to grow up a little bit. I think we did that.”
“We moved it; we executed,” McCaffery said. “We didn’t execute yesterday the way we did today. That was a point of emphasis and I’m thrilled to see it went down that way.
“When we come down and call a play, we’re running an action, you’ve got to be in the right place, you’ve got to screen at the right angle. You’ve got to execute the play the way it’s supposed to be executed and not break off and be incorrect on your positioning and end up with a miss.”
In addition to Bohannon and Cook, Iowa also got important performances from Luka Garza, who had 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, as well as Isaiah Moss at 12 points and four assists and Maishe Dailey, who had seven points and two rebounds while playing 20 minutes.
It was Garza’s and-1 play near the end of the game that essentially ensured the victory.
“He really worked hard, was a physical presence,” McCaffery said. “And we went to him in crunchtime. He wanted the ball and made a terrific and-1 play. It basically iced the game.”
Iowa next is in action at Virginia Tech as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
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