They don't all have to be pretty, right? If I told you before the game that Iowa would have a -17 turnover margin and turn the ball over 24 times total, that they would miss 10 free throws, and that Bakari Evelyn would outscore Luka Garza... there's no way you would expect them to actually win the game, right? Well, funny thing about that...
Iowa overcame a mountain of turnovers and some uncommonly bad free throw shooting -- and a slightly quieter game from their superstar so far this season, Luka Garza -- to pick up their second win over Cincinnati in the last ten months, 77-70. How'd they do it? Good question.
When Iowa wasn't turning the ball over, they were converting shots at a pretty good clip. Iowa shot 13/29 (44.8%) from the floor in the first half and improved their percentage in second half with a 10/21 (47.6%) display. (They attempted fewer shots in part because of their 14 second half turnovers and in part because of 15 second half Cincinnati fouls.) Iowa's shooting in this game also reinforced one of the key principles in the game of basketball in recent years: 3 > 2. Iowa shot 11/24 (45.8%) from behind the arc in this game, including a 7/16 display when they built a 39-31 halftime lead. That sharp-shooting helped offset the constant stream of turnovers, as did the fact that Cincinnati made just 6/24 (25%) of their 3-point tries.
In fact, Cincinnati's offense in general was abysmal in this game. Despite attempting 72 shots -- 22 more than Iowa attempted in the game -- the Bearcats made just 25 shots total (only two more than the 23 field goals Iowa had in the game, on just 50 attempts). They were cold in the first half (12/37, 32.4%) and not much better in the second half (13/35, 37.1%), though they were especially bad from behind the arc after halftime (3/16, 18.8%). Considering they were 9/19 on 2-point tries in the second half, maybe they should have tried a few more shots from inside the arc and nearer to the basket? Glad they didn't, although Iowa's defense deserves credit for that as well -- their zone did a nice job of harassing Cincinnati on offense and preventing them from dumping the ball into the post or allowing players on the perimeter penetrate into the lane. Iowa was more than happy to let a not-very-good 3-point shooting team hoist up shot after shot from deep and that decision worked like a charm.
With Jordan Bohannon sidelined for the season with a new hip surgery, we knew that more pressure was going to fall on Iowa's other starters, particularly Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and C.J. Fredrick. We were going to need them to produce at even higher levels than they have been so far this season. And we were going to need some bench players to step up as well to help fill the void left by Bohannon. Mission accomplished on all fronts in this game. Fredrick led Iowa with 21 points on 6/11 shooting (3/6 from deep) and also added three rebounds, an assist, and a steal -- and managed to draw six fouls from Cincinnati defenders. Fredrick made a slew of big shots throughout the game, including a pair of and-one opportunities early in the second half as Iowa built a 15-point lead (that was soon frittered away thanks to the turnoverpocalypse that struck the Hawkeyes; seriously, at one point Iowa turned the ball over four times in less than 90 seconds) and a pair of three-pointers that re-established Iowa's lead when Cincinnati was making a big run of their own in the second half. Fredrick will need to take on an even bigger scoring load without Bohannon and for this game, at least, he was more than up to the task.
Joe Wieskamp is another player who will need to up his production the rest of the way and he got off to a pretty good start on that front here. He was second on the team with 16 points on 5/11 shooting (3/7 from deep), which he supplemented with a strong all-around game: six rebounds and four assists (which tied for a team-high). Connor McCaffery had just three points (on unusually bad for him 3/6 free throw shooting), but did have nine rebounds (second on the team), three assists, a steal, and a blocked shot. Iowa's fourth starting guard in the game was Joe Toussaint, but the first start of his Hawkeye career was a decidedly ignominious one; he played just 3:33 all night as he struggled with fouls (he was dinged for three) and turnovers (another three) in that short amount of time on the floor. There will be better games ahead for Joe.
Instead, it was another guard who came off the bench to provide a critical spark for Iowa in this game. Bakari Evelyn had by far his best game as an Iowa player here, scoring 15 points on 4/7 shooting (3/4 from deep) and also making all four of his free throw attempts (big on a night where the usually reliable Wieskamp, Fredrick, and McCaffery combined to miss six freebies). He also had seven rebounds and tied for the team high with four assists. He hit a pair of threes early in the game to get Iowa going after a sluggish start and he made some key baskets in the second half when Iowa's lead had been erased and the game was turning into a back-and-forth dogfight. There's no question that this is the type of performance we were hoping to see from Evelyn with more regularity when he arrived at Iowa as a grad transfer. With Bohannon laid up, he's going to get more opportunities to play -- hopefully he can continue to make the most of them in Big Ten play as well.
It wasn't all sunshine and roses with Evelyn, of course -- he did have a team-high five turnovers. Pretty bad! But he was able to more than offset that with the positive contributions he made throughout the game and, frankly, he was one of an entire team that couldn't seem to hold onto the ball to save their lives. Every Iowa player in the game had at least two giveaways and every starter except Connor McCaffery had three turnovers. No one could hold onto the ball in this game; everyone was either attempting bad passes, dribbling the ball off their foot, or somehow just getting the ball ripped out of their grasp by a Cincinnati player. Suffice to say, the game film from tonight's game will provide a lot of "teachable moments" for Fran & Co. over the next week.
Shout-out to Luka Garza in this game as well. His shot wasn't really falling in this game from any range -- he was 1/4 on 3-point tries, 4/8 on 2-point attempts, and a brutal 1/4 on free throws. But he found other ways to impact the game positively for Iowa, like his game-high 13 rebounds, including six vital defensive rebounds in the second half. He also had a whopping five blocks, as well as two assists and a steal. Great players find ways to help their teams even if they're not scoring the ball as well as normal, which is precisely what Garza was able to do in this game.
This was certainly not a pretty win, not with all those turnovers or those missed free throws. There will be plenty of things for Fran & Co. to work on with this team over the week, especially with full-on Big Ten play looming shortly. Iowa won't win many games when they turn the ball over 24 times; there's no doubt that Big Ten coaches will be watching the film from this game with interest, particularly when Cincinnati broke out a full court press that completely flummoxed Iowa and set off a turnover binge. But we'd certainly rather see this team try to learn those lessons after a win than after a crushing loss.
And this win means that Iowa has finished the nasty stretch of their non-conference schedule with a 5-2 record. That is certainly not something most people (us included) saw coming before the season or in the early going of this year. But Iowa's kept steadily improving throughout the year -- on both ends of the court -- and between players like McCaffery and (especially) Garza taking their games to another level and players like Fredrick having strong freshman seasons, Iowa has been able to bank a lot of wins against this tough part of their schedule. Those wins could pay off nicely come March.
NEXT: Iowa returns home to welcome Kennesaw State (1-10) to Iowa City on Sunday, December 29 at 3 PM CT on ESPNU.