IOWA CITY — Sprained ankles are random, isolated injuries. Yet, the 21st-ranked Iowa men’s basketball team has had an flu-like outbreak of them.
Riley Till sprained an ankle at practice Monday. Ryan Kriener had one late in Tuesday night’s game here against Western Carolina.
Late in Friday’s practice, Iowa starting forward Luka Garza suffered one. He had the injured foot in a walking boot and was using crutches Saturday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where he watched his teammates overwhelm Savannah State, 110-64.
On top of that, freshman guard Connor McCaffery was held out because he was in concussion protocol due to a bump he got late in that Western Carolina game.
So the Hawkeyes, who had already lost junior forward Cordell Pemsl for the season to knee surgery, were down to seven scholarship players for Saturday’s game.
It was a Festivus for the rest of us as far as Iowa’s walk-ons were concerned. Four of them combined to play 54 minutes and score 27 points.
The lingering question is how much they’ll be needed once the going gets tough again, which is Jan. 3 at Purdue. Before that is a game here Dec. 29 against Bryant, which is near the tail end of the Division-I power rankings with Savannah State.
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Kriener and walk-on Till weren’t severely hurt. Till played 20 minutes Saturday, Kriener 18. But no one knows when Garza and his 12.7 points per game will return.
“I hope not,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery replied when asked if Garza will be out long. “But I don’t know that I can tell you unequivocally he won’t.
“He’s going to go home. He’s got a diligent game plan for how he takes care of this thing. The next couple days it’s still ice, ice, ice, get the swelling down. We’ll see where he is when he gets back.”
If you had to pick a time to have key players out, this was it. Savannah State came in allowing 99.4 points per game, the most of any of the 353 Division-I teams.
Sophomore redshirt forward Till of Dubuque had 10 points. Freshman redshirt guard Ash of Mount Vernon High scored nine, making 3 of 8 3-pointers.
“Ash is a weapon,” McCaffery said. “He can really shoot it. Riley, athletically, it’s rare to have a 6-7 walk-on who can, on the break, try to dunk on two guys, back-cut, steal the ball, hit a cutter, hit a jumper.
“Those guys are legit players. … We’re thrilled to have them.”
“I’ve always believed in myself and believed in what I had the ability to do,” Till said. “I’ve just kind of been waiting for my opportunity and making the most with every opportunity I’ve gotten.”
Ash made 140 3-pointers his senior season at Mount Vernon.
“Ash is the man,” Till said. “That’s my guy. His love of the game is just so infectious. He brings it day in and day out. He’s a deadeye shooter.”
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Joe Wieskamp, a freshman scholarship player, was no slouch Saturday. He had three of Iowa’s single-game record of 19 made 3-pointers and scored a career-high 24 points in 18 minutes.
“I knew that I probably wouldn’t be playing a whole lot,” Wieskamp said, “so I just tried to score early and often.”
Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon attempted 14 3-pointers and made six for a season-high 18 points. He came in with a field goal percentage of .333, down considerably from his .423 of last season.
“I’ve never really had that period where I just doubted myself completely,” Bohannon said. “I think I was going through that the last couple of games where I just wasn’t myself.”
After getting his points, Bohannon cheered on the walk-ons. Sophomore Nicolas Hobbs of Chicago, a student manager for the team last season, banked in a 3-pointer. From the baseline.
“I have no idea how that went in,” Bohannon said. “We were about it in the locker room and he was like ‘Jordan, I heard you say ‘Oh my God’ right when I shot it. I said ‘Oh my God’ right when I shot it.’”
The Hawkeyes won’t be able to depend upon banked-in 3s from walk-ons once Big Ten play resumes. Ice that ankle down, Luka. Ice, ice, ice.
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