And a Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Hawkeyes.
The Iowa men's basketball team took an early lead, grew it to 15 in the first half, then hung on for a massive 72-61 victory over No. 12 Texas Tech in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational. Jordan Bohannon led all scorers with 20 points on 4-for-9 shooting from deep, and Luka Garza shook off a bloodied nose and a VERY bloodied lip to finish with 17 points and 12 rebounds in the emotional win.
Iowa will face San Diego State in Friday's invitational championship, as the Aztecs throttled Creighton, 83-52, in Thursday night's other action.
This was a 40-minute victory—and the Hawkeyes needed all 40.
In contrast to Iowa's horrific start against DePaul a couple weeks ago, Iowa came out firing, going 5-for-7 from deep in the first 8 minutes to stake a 19-10 lead. A 4-minute scoreless streak ensued, because of course it did, but Iowa's defense was so locked in that Tech couldn't manage to tie the game back up. Once Iowa's shooting was back on track, the Hawkeyes pushed the lead as far as 36-21 and happily went to the locker room with a 10-point advantage.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Texas Tech was ranked 12th and was the national runner-up last season in a championship game that went to overtime. And Iowa absolutely controlled the first half against that team.
Luka postgame:— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) November 29, 2019
-loved the physicality
-got 4 stitches and some 'rest' pic.twitter.com/j8tBBA5F7D
The second half was a balancing act between disaster and relief. Texas Tech would creep closer, Iowa would make space. Closerrrrr... space. Closer still... space. So with 10 minutes to go when Garza left the game with a crimson mask that would make Ric Flair proud—the type that usually means "very broken nose" when it comes via elbow on a basketball court—Iowa's lead was down to 5 points with 8 minutes left and it was looking like scary hours for a frontcourt that was suddenly down to Ryan Kriener, Cordell Pemsl and [ERROR: FILE NOT FOUND].
And yet the Hawkeyes persevered, keeping pace in the game for the next couple minutes until Garza returned from the locker room, his face restored to form with a few new stitches on his lip. His return marked a new level of motivation that we'd never seen from him in his first two seasons, and it buoyed the Hawkeyes emotionally for the stretch run against this tough, talented Red Raiders team.
In the last six minutes of action, Garza had the following stat line:
- 6 points (2-3 FG, 2-5 FT)
- 4 rebounds (1 ORB)
- 3 PF committed, 3 PF drawn
Do you want to see him make more free throws? Of course. He usually does. Committing three fouls in that short span isn't great, but they were good fouls—good, hard defense you want your 260-pound center playing, and calls that won't always go against him. He refused to let Texas Tech physically impose its will, and... well, he played pissed off. Iowa needed that in a battle like this.
Iowa also needed clutch shooting, and it got that con gusto from its backcourt. Bohannon will forever be an Iowa legend as a shooter, but C.J. Fredrick was cold-blooded tonight. Fredrick pushed his 3-point shooting percentage to 61% with his 2-for-3 performance, and this was the shot of the game:
FRESHMAN CJ FREDRICK HUUUUUUUGE 3 pic.twitter.com/wmFm7EKnzO— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) November 29, 2019
Yes, that's Cordell Pemsl with the borderline miraculous save of the Bohannon airball, and boy, Iowa got a lot of hustle plays from Pemsl and Joe Toussaint in this win. The Iowa bench only contributed four points to the win, and that probably can't continue, but they helped keep up a defensive intensity that we haven't seen from Iowa in way too many years. Sure, it's nice that Texas Tech only went 4-for-24 from deep, but that kind of performance doesn't happen by accident—most of the Red Raiders' attempts from deep were contested, out of rhythm or in desperation. When TT had time to shoot on a clean pass, they did all right. They didn't have that often.
CJ Fredrick is locking up high-scoring Tech freshman Jahmius Ramsey.— Rob Howe (@RobHoweHN) November 29, 2019
Fredrick is already a fearless defender; that redshirt year did wonders for him. Toussaint sets the defensive intensity for the team as well as any Iowa guard since Anthony Clemmons. Wieskamp was terrifically disruptive on the perimeter, finishing with three steals in close defensive quarters. Iowa's bigs have their rotations in better order than... well, it's been a while. Texas Tech manufactured about... oh, five easy shots in the half-court all game long.
So what to make of this game? As the wise man says, it's November. March is a LONG way away. But no matter what happens the rest of the season, this is a great win for the team. And when the Hawkeyes have great wins, we dance.
GO IOWA AWESOME.