Saying that a basketball game was was "a tale of two halves" is to take a ride through Clichéville. And yet, after a game like this, it's hard to find a better way to sum things up. Iowa outscored San Diego State by nine in the first half. San Diego State outscored Iowa by (gulp) 19 points in the second half. Pretty much everything that went right for the Hawkeyes before halftime went wrong after the break. San Diego State stopped turning the ball over and started making shots, while Iowa struggled to stop the bleeding.
In another sense, it's a small miracle that Iowa was ever in this game in the first place. Luka Garza struggled with foul trouble in the first half (he picked up two quick fouls and sat the final 12 minutes before halftime) and could never find a rhythm in the second half, while Jordan Bohannon looked somewhat out of juice (he was just 1/4 from the floor and had three turnovers against two assists), and Joe Weiskamp had a nightmare game. He had five points and a rebound -- for the entire game -- on 2/10 shooting. If you had told me before the game that Weiskamp, Bohannon, and Garza would shoot a combined 6/22 from the floor (3/10 from outside), I would have assumed Iowa would have pounded into dust. But that's not what happened.
Iowa raced out to a 41-32 halftime lead (and led by as much as 16 in the first half) thanks to some major contributions from unexpected sources. After only scoring four points in the win over Texas Tech, Iowa's bench had 19 points in the first half alone in this game. Joe Toussaint was a hugely effective sparkplug off the bench for Iowa, going for 9 points in the first half on 2/5 shooting (5/5 free throws), while adding two assists and a steal and providing much-needed energy for Iowa whenever he was on the floor. Toussaint can definitely get a little too sloppy with the ball at times -- he had a team-high 4 turnovers in this game -- but the positives massively outweigh the negatives with his play at this point. Ryan Kriener was also very effective in spelling Garza during his foul-induced absence; Kriener had 7 points (on 3/4 shooting), a rebound, and an assist in 12 minutes of action.
Iowa also got bigger-than-expected contributions from two starters who have more typically been complimentary pieces in games: Connor McCaffery and C.J. Fredrick. Fredrick was solid against Texas Tech, but really came through in this game; he had a team-high 16 points on 6/10 shooting (2/5 from 3-point range), as well as a team-high 5 assists to go with three rebounds and a steal. He kept Iowa afloat for stretches of this game. McCaffery had his best game from a scoring standpoint in an Iowa jersey, as he erupted for 15 points on 5/7 shooting (!), including 2/3 from 3-point range (!!), to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Iowa doesn't need 15 points out of C-Mac every game, but it was nice to see him show more offensive pop. He did damage around the elbow and looked unusually effective from long-range in this game; hopefully his performance here carries over into the next few games.
Still, the disparity between the first and second halves in this game was just too stark and that's what doomed Iowa. Once the Aztecs stopped turning the ball over and letting Iowa have a sizable advantage at the free throw line, things turned in their favor in a big way. In the first half, Iowa forced 12 SDSU turnovers and turned them into 15 points (Iowa had a 15-2 edge in points off turnovers in the first half). They also went 9/10 at the free throw line, while SDSU went just 2/2 at the line. Those figures turned in the second half, as SDSU committed just thee turnovers (to Iowa's eight) and outscored Iowa 13-2 in points off turnovers. They also went 16/17 from the free throw line in the second half, which outdid Iowa's 9/10 outing at the line in the second half.
The Aztecs also finally got Malachi Flynn up and running in the second half and he was absolutely molten hot in those 20 minutes: after being held scoreless on 0/3 shooting in the first half, Flynn went 8/13 in the second half (3/7 from deep) and 9/9 at the free throw line for 28 (!) points, plus three rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Flynn was unstoppable in the second half and Iowa had no answers for his play.
Iowa's defense played well in the first half -- although a lot of their success in that period was in their ability to force turnovers. Those 13 turnovers that SDSU committed were critical in enabling Iowa to build a big lead in the game. But they still shot 52.2% from the floor (50% from 3), so when they weren't giving the ball away, they were having quite a bit of offensive success. In the second half their offensive effectiveness was largely maintained -- they shot 51.7% from the floor (41.7% from long range) -- and Iowa's defense stopped forcing turnovers. While Iowa's defense had its moments throughout this game, overall it wore down and struggled to contain SDSU, especially in the second half. The Aztecs got far too many good looks in that half -- and kept on draining them.
Iowa's Vegas excursion certainly ended in frustrating fashion; Iowa looked poised to win a second straight November tournament after that thrilling first half and getting outscored 51-32 after the break is pretty much the definition of "no bueno." And yet there were also a lot of positives for Iowa to take from this pair of games against quality opponents. Jordan Bohannon's epic game against Texas Tech proved that he can still turn back the clock to his form from his first three years at Iowa, though how often he can do that remains to be seen. Luka Garza was also exceptional in that game. C.J. Fredrick made big plays in both games and didn't look at all out of his depth even as the quality of opposition he was facing increased significantly. Joe Toussaint proved that he can be a difference-maker for Iowa at point guard, while Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener also gave Iowa some really effective minutes off the bench in these two games.
As this game showed, Iowa can't really withstand a bad night from Weiskamp and Bohannon and Garza, but Iowa's supporting cast showed a lot of encouraging signs. The key for them -- and for Iowa's season as a whole -- will be their ability to produce displays like that on an at least semi-consistent basis. We'll see how they fare over the next few games, as Iowa prepares for road games at Syracuse and Michigan next week. Iowa's Vegas residency wasn't a smashing success, but it was far from a humbling failure, too. Overall, Iowa handled these early big tests well and gave us reason to be hopeful for the rest of the season.
NEXT: Iowa heads cross-country to face Syracuse on the road as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday (6 PM CT, ESPN2).