Raise your hand if you saw that coming. Alright, hands down, you damn liars.
Iowa entered their game with Big Ten-ACC Challenge game with Syracuse on Tuesday night as 4-point underdogs and with a roughly 40% chance of winning per KenPom. And that was before we found out that Cordell Pemsl and C.J. Fredrick would be unavailable to play due to back and quad injuries, respectively. Iowa entered this game with an 8-man rotation and one of those eight was former walk-on Riley Till, who's played sparingly thus far this season.
But it turned out none of that mattered because Iowa kept pace with Syracuse through the first half (eventually opening up a one-point lead at halftime) and then blew the game open in the second half, ultimately winning by 14. On the road. Against a Power 5 opponent. Yessir, that is a good night at the office.
As noted, the game was close in the first half; there were nine lead changes and neither team ever led by more than four points. Part of the reason that neither team could build a lead in that half was because neither team shot the ball very well. Iowa was just 11/32 from the floor (34.4%) and 5/18 (27.8%) from deep. Syracuse wasn't much better -- they made just 10/27 (37%) of their field goal attempts, including 4/12 (33%) from the perimeter. Syracuse coughed the ball up 10 times, which Iowa turned into 8 points, while Syracuse could only muster three points from Iowa's eight first half turnovers. Luka Garza continued his torrid plan in the first half, with 10 points on 4/8 shooting and four rebounds. Joe Weiskamp also provided a spark for Iowa from outside, adding nine points on 3/5 shooting from beyond the arc.
In the second half, Iowa's shooting improved dramatically while Syracuse's... did not. Iowa went on a 16-2 run from the 16-minute mark to the 9-minute mark which blew the game wide open and turned the final quarter of the game into a cruise for the Hawkeyes. The Orange couldn't buy a bucket during that stretch, while a pair of JBo threes, a pair of Weiskamp twos, a trio of Garza twos, and a Connor McCaffery floater kept Iowa's lead climbing. Overall, Iowa made 15/29 (51.7%) of their shots in the second half, including 6/16 (37.5%) from 3-point range. They were 9/13 (69%) (nice) on their 2-point attempts, many of which were right at the basket. Luka Garza continued his excellent play with 13 points on 5/7 shooting; with Syracuse's bigs in foul trouble, Garza had free reign around the hoop and he took full advantage of that. Jordan Bohannon's shot also woke up and he added 12 points on 4/6 shooting from outside. Connor McCaffery added five points and Weiskamp had an additional four in the second half.
Meanwhile, Syracuse's offense just crawled into a ditch and died in the second half. They went over four minutes without scoring, like, at all, and shot just 9/25 (36%) from the floor and a sickly 2/9 (22%) from deep. Iowa and Syracuse were fairly level in several areas (7-6 Syracuse in points off turnovers, 14-12 Syracuse in points in the paint, 7-5 Iowa in second chance points); the biggest difference was simply that Iowa made a few shots in the second half and Syracuse didn't. This is a make-or-miss sport and sometimes things just aren't that complicated. Iowa made six more field goals overall, and a +4 edge in made threes in the second half really helped their lead balloon.
Iowa's defense certainly deserves some credit for Syracuse's anemic offensive showing. They forced the Orange into some bad shots and kept them off the glass (just four second-half offensive rebounds for Syracuse). But this was also just one of those nights (especially in the second half) where nothing seemed to be falling for them. We've seen nights like that for Iowa in the past; it was nice to be on the other side of it here.
In the absence of Pemsl and Fredrick, Fran went with a shortened rotation and rode his main starters heavily. Garza, Bohannon, Weiskamp, and McCaffery all played 36 or more minutes in this game. Garza, Bohannon, and Weiskamp combined for 53 of Iowa's 68 points, led by Garza's 23. Garza and Weiskamp each had nine rebounds as well. Joe Toussaint, Bakari Evelyn, and Riley Till were the only bench players to see action; Toussaint made the biggest contribution with five points, two rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 13 minutes. It won't be possible to rely on Iowa's Big Three so heavily in every game (or even most games, probably), but it worked like a charm here.
In less than a week Iowa's gone 2-1 in neutral court or road games against Texas Tech, San Diego State, and Syracuse -- all while dealing with a season-ending injury to one starter (Jack Nunge) and less serious injuries that kept another starter (Fredrick) and a key reserve (Pemsl) out of action in this game. I think we'll certainly take that. Syracuse was, admittedly, not very good tonight (especially in the second half), but 14-point road wins are nothing to sneeze at, especially over a Power 5 opponent. Iowa played well with a depleted squad in a hostile environment; we'll take that every day of the week.
NEXT: Iowa's journeys away from home continue with a trip to face #4 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday (5:30 PM CT, FS1).