IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa mounted an 10-point comeback in the last 12 minutes of the Gazette-Hawkeye Challenge Saturday to take their 21st tournament title by defeating Northern Illinois 65-57 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes went into the half four-down but leading in almost every statistical category. However, 11 turnovers by the Hawkeyes led to 15 points for the Huskies, who hit 10-of-23 from the field, 10 percent more than Iowa.
The “stagnant” offensive performance by Iowa wasn’t turned around to open the last period, but an overpowering defensive game pushed through, led strangely enough by Brody Boyd with three consecutive steals midway through and a tournament-record seven for the game.
“I thought it was a great, great win for us,” Coach Steve Alford said. “I have to give Northern Illinois an awful lot of credit because they did some good things. But on a night when not a lot of things were going well, we had some guys step up – Jared Reiner and Brody Body were two incredible seniors for us.
“We didn’t recruit (Boyd) to be a defender, but his play in the second half was as big as anything that’s happened to us all weekend.”
“I knew they were trying to go inside to (Marcus) Smallwood because he was the one scoring, so anything they were putting in the post, I was going to dig down,” said Boyd. “We took him away in the second half and a lot of that had to do with the guard play.
“Going down and getting steals off of them and bringing it up the floor, that created enthusiasm and energy for us and that’s what got us up.”
Reiner, who managed only one point in the first half, came back with 12 more in the second to build Iowa’s cushion with six minutes left.
“It was big time,” said Alford. “He didn’t have a good first half in either game (of the tournament). He led his team in the last ten minutes because (Northern Illinois) couldn’t guard him. He had an incredible presence.”
For all-tournament player Greg Brunner, senior leadership and defense were all it took to ignite his struggling team.
“I think our seniors just really picked it up and contributed the way they’re supposed to,” he said. “(Northern Illinois) came out and beat us in every aspect of the team, but I give a lot of credit to our team because being 10-down with 12 to play and then winning by eight is hard to do.”
“We challenged our seniors at half,” Alford said. “We weren’t getting much out of our seniors, and then they were absolutely incredible down the stretch. They played with the urgency they have to play with.”
In the second half, the Huskies had 10 turnovers and the Hawkeyes were able to nearly treble their points off them while improving their shooting by 17 percent.
“Turnovers are an issue with our ball club,” Northern Illinois coach Rob Judson said. “It was their defensive pressure that forced us to make a lot of turnovers. We scored 20 baskets and we assisted on 17 of those, but the 21 turnovers are what set us back.”
Forward Marcus Smallwood, the tournament MVP, led the Huskies offensively with 19 points, nine rebounds and one assist. Todd Peterson added 14 and was 4-of-13 for the long shots.
“(The Huskies) took a shot tonight and for a stretch there we had them worried,” said Judson. “But then (Iowa’s) inside strength took over and they got the basketball inside and got to the free throw line a lot.”
Pierre Pierce, who had a team-high 16 points in the game, made the all-tournament team along with Jeff Horner and Brunner. Alvin Snow of Eastern Washington and Cedrick Banks of Illinois-Chicago were also represented.
In the consolation bracket, Illinois-Chicago defeated Eastern Washington, 67-52. Armond Williams led Illinois-Chicago with 19 points, five rebounds, four steals and a block. Snow led the Eagles with 21 points and five assists.
Iowa travels to Northern Iowa on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. The Hawkeyes then have a near-two-week holiday before facing Texas Tech in Dallas, Monday, Dec. 22. Iowa’s next home game is Dec. 30 against Eastern Illinois.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com