NEW YORK — Within the first 89 seconds Friday night, Iowa junior guard Jordan Bohannon committed two fouls, forcing coach Fran McCaffery to bench the team’s leading scorer and third-year starting point guard.
Redshirt freshman Connor McCaffery, the coach’s son, replaced Bohannon. It wasn’t exactly the type of situation the Hawkeyes hoped for, but they didn’t miss a beat. In fact, with McCaffery on the floor, they had arguably their best stretch of this young season.
When Bohannon returned more than 11 minutes later, Iowa had already taken a 17-point lead over Connecticut. The Hawkeyes led by at least double digits the rest of the way and cruised to a 91-72 victory in the 2K Empire Classic championship game at Madison Square Garden.
It was the Hawkeyes’ first early season tournament title on a neutral court since they won the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico in December 1997. The convincing victory over UConn, coupled with Thursday night’s 77-69 upset of No. 16 Oregon, could lead to Iowa (4-0) being ranked for the first time since the end of the 2015-16 season.
Afterward, UConn coach Dan Hurley mentioned the Hawkeyes look like a team capable of appearing in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, he joked that he would’ve much preferred facing Oregon, which received much more preseason hype than Iowa.
“They’re going to win a ton of games and have a chance to be a big factor in March,” he said of the Hawkeyes.
Iowa sophomore center Luka Garza was named the tournament’s most valuable player. He had 22 points on Friday, including 18 in the first half. Tyler Cook, a junior forward, was also a member of the all-tournament team. He had a game-high 26 points and eight rebounds.
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Connor McCaffery, who underwent surgery last December following issues with throat infections and mononucleosis, had the best game of his brief college career. He scored a career-high 19 points and handled UConn’s defensive pressure, committing only one turnover in 29 minutes.
“I knew when he came back this year, he would be really good and do what we wanted him to do,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s really smart, he’s tough, he’s a gamer, he’s always been a winner. He knows and understands what has to be done in this game.”
The Hawkeyes were impressive on defense, as well. UConn, which had made 12 3-pointers in each of its previous two games, missed its first 12 long-range shots on Friday night and finished 4 of 26 beyond the arc. Iowa also had a 43-31 rebounding edge.
“I’m just really excited and happy that our guys really showed the maturity to lock in and stay connected,” Fran McCaffery said. “You’ve got to be connected on both ends, but I think it’s absolutely critical on the defensive end.”
Iowa won despite off nights from Joe Wieskamp (1 point) and Bohannon (7 points). Bohannon didn’t score until 10:20 left in the game when he made 1 of 2 free throws following a technical foul on Hurley. Hurley was called for another technical with 1:44 remaining and was ejected.
“The fact that we were able to come into this environment and play against two really good teams and come up with two really good victories, I think that speaks to our growth as a unit,” Cook said. “It also speaks to where we could be in the future if we keep working and keep improving.”