CHICAGO — What the Iowa men’s basketball team found itself without after Jordan Bohannon’s hip surgery Thursday was a senior guard who can handle the ball, sink 3-pointers, and maintain poise late in a tough game.
Wait. The Hawkeyes still have one of those.
Fifth-year senior Bakari Evelyn doubled his season total of 3-pointers by making three in four tries during Iowa’s 77-70 win over Cincinnati Saturday night in the United Center before 6,814 fans. His 15 points was one shy of his total through Iowa’s first 11 games. He also had seven rebounds and four assists.
“I feel I can just do whatever the team needs,” Evelyn said, “and tonight it just happened to be that.”
“He brings a little bit of everything to the game,” said Hawkeye freshman guard CJ Fredrick. “I think you saw he’s a big-time player.”
Evelyn made a 3-pointer with 3:52 left to give Iowa a 68-64 lead, and knifed to the basket with 2:47 left for a score to make it 70-66. Cincinnati, which erased a 15-point second-half deficit behind dogged defense that helped force Iowa into a whopping 24 turnovers, was stymied the rest of the way.
Evelyn established himself early when Iowa fell behind 5-0 in no small part to erratic play by freshman point guard Joe Toussaint, making his first start. Toussaint had two turnovers in the first three minutes.
“He fell the first three times he got the ball,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, adding that Toussaint changed his shoes at halftime.
Toussaint got the hook at the 17:15 mark of the first half. Evelyn came in and played like a champ. He hit a pair of 3-pointers and was directly responsible for 15 of the Hawkeyes’ first 18 points.
It was understandable why McCaffery hugged Evelyn in a hallway after the game and told him “You were fabulous.”
Evelyn came Iowa’s way in the summer as a graduate transfer from Valparaiso. When Bohannon had his first hip surgery of 2019, Iowa had a need for another guard in case Bohannon wasn’t going to be able to play any or all of this season. Saturday, Evelyn looked like a fortuitous free agent acquisition.
Something that also looks brilliant is the recruitment of Fredrick from, as coincidence would have it, Cincinnati. The redshirt freshman played 37 minutes and matched his career-high 21 points. He drew six fouls.
“I will tell you he’s a blessing to coach because he’s zero maintenance,” McCaffery said. “That means on and off the floor. ‘What do you need me to do, Coach? Got it.’ And he goes and does it. You don’t have to keep reminding him, you don’t have to push him, you don’t have to challenge him.
“So I wish I could tell you that it was something miraculous that I’m doing. It’s not. It’s him.”
Those 24 turnovers — the Hawkeyes had made a total of just 26 over their previous three games, against Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa State — uglied up this win.
“It’s a good lesson for us going forward,” Garza said, “just to make sure that can’t happen again, and if it does, we still (must) find a way to pull the win out. You’ve got to win ugly, too.”
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Iowa takes a 9-3 record into its Dec. 29 home game against Kennesaw State. Considering the Hawkeyes’ rugged schedule in the 2019 portion of the 2019-20 season, 10-3 would be darn good.
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