CHICAGO — The Iowa men’s basketball team will have itself a merry little Christmas.
The Hawkeyes (9-3) beat Cincinnati 77-70 Saturday night at the United Center to take a 9-3 record home for the holidays and win their first game in the post-Jordan Bohannon portion of this season.
It was not easy. The Hawkeyes blew a 15-point second-half lead with atrocious ball handling against Bearcat pressure defense, falling behind for the first time in the half with 4:45 left. Joe Wieskamp and Bakari Evelyn then sank consecutive 3-pointers for a 68-64 Iowa edge.
Cincinnati cut it to 68-66, but a drive by Evelyn and two free throws from Wieskamp upped the lead to 72-66 with 1:57 left.
Iowa’s defense stymied the Bearcats the rest of the way.
The Hawkeyes won this despite 24 turnovers. They entered the game third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. However, Iowa outshot its foe by 46 to 34.7 percent, and had a 48-31 rebounding advantage. Luka Garza had 13 boards.
Bohannon had hip surgery a few days ago. He was missed. Iowa could have used a seasoned, savvy senior. Another one, that is, because Evelyn had a season-high 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Iowa scored six points in a three-second span to take a 48-35 lead with 17:24, and a Garza basket made it 50-35. Iowa guard Connor McCaffery then got his third foul and was taken out, and a dry spell followed.
The Hawkeyes didn’t score for 6:16 as Cincinnati cut the lead to 50-45. Iowa missed two front ends of one-and-one free throw situations in that stretch.
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Freshman point guard Joe Toussaint got his first career start for the Hawkeyes, and it didn’t go well for him in the limited time he played. Toussaint had two turnovers and a poor choice of passing when he had an opening to the basket himself in the game’s first three minutes as Iowa fell behind 5-0.
Exit Toussaint, enter fifth-year senior Evelyn. Sixteen of Iowa’s first 19 points came on two Evelyn 3-pointers and three assists, and two setups to teammates when they got fouled and made free throws.
The game was a ping-pong ball for the first 17 minutes, with both teams shooting poorly. Iowa had a 27-16 rebounding advantage in the half, but the Hawkeyes had 10 turnovers to the Bearcats’ four to even things out.
Iowa found itself ahead 39-31 at halftime, though, thanks largely to an 8-0 run from the 2:29 to the 1:51 marks. CJ Fredrick made a short jumper, Wieskamp hit a 3-pointer on a feed from McCaffery, and Garza knocked down a three off a Wieskamp dish.
Fredrick, a Cincinnati native, had 10 points in the half and a game-high 21.
Jarron Cumberland, the Bearcats’ most-touted player, got a late first-half technical foul for flopping on a Wieskamp knife to the basket for a score.
Iowa’s next game is at home against Kennesaw State on Dec. 29.
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