For the second straight game, Iowa basketball jumped out to an early lead -- and never really looked back. Iowa jumped out to a 12-4 lead six minutes in, roared to a 24-12 lead halfway through the first half, and led 43-27 at the half. Their lead never dipped below 13 points in the second half and for much of the half it was a 20+ lead, on the way to a comfortable 91-72 Iowa win. This was a damn rout and it made Iowa the 2018 2K Empire Classic champions. Hell yeah.
Hawks are Champions of 2K Empire Classic pic.twitter.com/SqTV3TWDAj
— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) November 17, 2018
The win improved Iowa to 4-0 overall, their best start since 2013-14, when they started 7-0 on the way to a 20-11 regular season and eventual NCAA Tournament berth. The win also exorcised a lot of demons in early season tournaments. This was Iowa's first win in a non-conference tournament (not counting things like the Hawkeye Challenge) since the 1990s:
— Matt Weitzel (@BigWeitz) November 17, 2018
Fran's teams had come close to ending that drought in the past; the closest call probably came in that aforementioned 13-14 season, when they lost in overtime to Villanova in the Paradise Jam championship game in the Bahamas. Since then Iowa had gone 2-8 in preseason tournament games, an ignominious run that included lowlights like getting swept at the 2K Classic by Texas and Syracuse in 2015 and losing to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State last year. This year's Iowa team kicked those memories to the curb, along with the competition at the 2K Empire Classic.
Remarkably, Iowa dominated the game and scored 90+ despite terrible shooting displays from Jordan Bohannon (7 points on 1/4 shooting) and Joe Wieskamp (1 point on 0/2 shooting) and a misfiring three-point attack (4/13, 30.8%). But who needs the three-ball when you can just pound the ball in the paint? Iowa scored 48 points in the paint and drew 24 UConn fouls, which turned into 37 Iowa free throw attempts. They once again were excellent at the line, making 29 of 37 tries (78.4%). Iowa made 25/44 (56.8%) of their two-point shots in the game, which will do nicely. Iowa shot pretty well in the first half (14/31, 45%), but they were very good in the second half (15/26, 57%), when they were able to pull away. For the game Iowa scored 1.20 points per possession, which is pretty excellent.
Iowa's defense showed up once again as they held UConn to 0.95 points per possession. The defense was better in the first half as Iowa built their lead; they held the Huskies to 11/30 (36.7%) shooting in that period. UConn was also 0/8 from 3-point range in that half, which was critical after the Huskies had used red-hot 3-point shooting to upset Syracuse on Thursday night. UConn's offense finally going going a bit in the second half, as they made 18/39 (46.2%) shots and scored 45 points. But many of those points came late, when the game was well-decided. When the game mattered, Iowa's defense kept UConn in check pretty well.
The stars for Iowa were the two-headed monster of Tyler Cook and Luka Garza down low, who repeatedly abused UConn in the post. Cook played 38 minutes (!) and finished with 26 points on 10/14 shooting to go with a team-high 8 rebounds, as well as two assists and a steal. He also had several rim-crushing dunks. Garza, who was named 2K Classic MVP, had 22 points on 7/14 shooting (including 2/5 from deep) to go with six rebounds and a block.
While Iowa's offense ran through Cook and Garza in this game and they were immense, their was a third star in this game too: Connor McCaffery, who had a monster game off the bench for Iowa. Bohannon picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the game, which rooted him to the bench for most of the time remaining in the first half. Problem? No problem. McCaffery came in and gave Iowa excellent minutes in JBo's stead; he kept the offense humming along and was pivotal to Iowa building their big first half lead. For the game he played 29 minutes (third-most behind Cook and Garza) and had 19 points on 5/8 shooting (and 9/11 free throw shooting) to go with three rebounds and a team-high five assists. He also had just one turnover in 29 minutes of work; not too bad for a freshman plugged into a high-pressure situation. Without McCaffery, there's very little chance Iowa wins this game; just recall what happened last year without Bohannon on the floor.
That's kind of the story of these last two games, though: the growth and development of Iowa from last year to this year. Iowa beat Oregon despite the offense only mustering four field goals in the second half; they off-set that by getting to the free throw line a lot, but still -- only making four baskets in a half will usually lead to a loss and it certainly would have for last year's squad. Last year's squad couldn't have weathered nearly an entire half without Bohannon; this year's team went and built a 16-point lead with JBo mostly watching from the bench. This year's Hawkeyes talked the talk in the lead-up to this campaign about how motivated they were to avenge the displays of last season. Well, so far, they're definitely walking the walk -- and it's a blast to watch.
Hawkeyes Celebrate a Championship in MSG pic.twitter.com/4zQtr9j5ad
— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) November 17, 2018
Put some respect on @IowaHoops' name.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 17, 2018
NEXT: Iowa returns home to host Alabama State on Wednesday (7 PM CT, BTN).