MINNEAPOLIS — Iowa’s seniors, the source of much criticism by Head Coach Steve Alford following Saturday’s loss at home against Northwestern, combined for 49 points and sophomore point guard Jeff Horner had a career-high 23 to lift the Hawkeyes over Minnesota 83-68 on Tuesday.
“Obviously, a great win for us,” Alford said. “I just appreciate the resiliency that our kids showed just getting back up off the mat. They had a very difficult loss on Saturday.”
Horner went 10-of-11 from the line and 5-of-8 from the field, after opening quickly with three 3-pointers.
“I came out and got a couple of threes and got things going, and we got a good win,” said Horner. “We did play loose at the beginning and then kind of tightened up at the end, but we held on.”
Two fast breaks by the Hawkeyes broke the seesaw battle in the first half at about the 13-minute mark. Senior guard Brody Boyd got a nice feed from Horner to go up by two, and 30 seconds later Boyd got a steal off of Minnesota forward Kris Humphries and Jared Reiner finished the play with a lay-up.
From that starting point, Iowa built an 11-point lead with another 3-pointer by Horner, while defensively the Hawkeyes were able to hold Minnesota without an offensive goal for just over six minutes.
Iowa opted for zone defense through the evening to avoid Gopher offensive sets that included the standout freshman, Humphries, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. With the zone, Minnesota mustered 26-of-63 (41.3 percent) from the field.
“I’m sure I’ll get a call from Coach Knight after this one,” said Alford. “We defended tonight like we’ve been defending. We probably played as much zone tonight as I’ve had as a coach in 13 years.”
But a short jumper by Adam Boone ended the draught at 2:40 and created a late surge by the Golden Gophers led by Humphries and closed with sophomore forward Stan Gaines nabbing a 3-pointer. Yet the Hawkeyes had the advantage, 34-28, at halftime.
“I really thought our zone defense bothered them,” said Horner. “Humphries went 5-of-14 and I think we kind of got in his head a bit. We just played very good zone defense and they didn’t make many shots.”
Minnesota kept the momentum going to start the second half with an early 3-pointer by Boone. And Humphries followed-up a minute later with a steal off of Pierre Pierce and an uncontested dunk.
The best offensive move of the night for Humphries cut Iowa’s lead to three, but Iowa’s zone and 78 percent foul shooting not only kept the Gophers in their hole but extended the lead as high as 20 points.
“Fortunately, we made free throws when we had to make them,” said Alford. “If we weren’t making free throws, it would have gotten really scary because we weren’t stopping them in the last three minutes.”
But the game did come down to the four seniors: Boyd, Reiner, center Sean Sonderleiter and forward Glen Worley. The foursome made 13-of-23 from the field and 21-of-24 at the line.
“Our strength, if we have any edge, has got to be our seniors,” said Alford. “The key tonight was that our four seniors all produced on the same night. If we’re going to play at a high level, we need that production out of all four of them.”
Sonderleiter, who has been averaging 62.1 percent from the charity stripe, made 8-of-9 Tuesday and finished with a season-high 12 points. The 6-foot-9 Des Moines-native had replaced Reiner for the first time all year on the starting line-up.
“It was just that horrible loss against Northwestern, where we didn’t do our job leading the underclassmen,” said Sonderleiter. “I was just solid on the defensive end, trying to get all the boards I could and limit Humphries’ touches, and when they fouled me, I went to the free throw line and made them.”
“For him to do that, it was huge,” said Alford of Sonderleiter. “I thought we got good play out of everybody.”
The Hawkeyes improved to 9-4 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten before heading to Illinois on Saturday, while Minnesota drops to 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the league.
The up-and-down last week for Iowa with wins over Purdue and Minnesota but a loss against Northwestern emphasizes the need for consistency despite the win for Boyd, who had 15 points and a team-high six rebounds.
“If we can do this every game for us seniors, no matter what the underclassmen do, we can be a good team,” said Boyd. “We have to show them how to play, and I think we played extremely well tonight. When us four seniors show that consistency through every game, it’s just been up and down and we can’t do that in this league anyway.”
But the rollercoaster ride seems to be expected for Coach Alford because of the “parity” that the Big Ten Conference offers this year.
“I don’t think it’s just this team,” he said. “Look at college basketball. We’re 9-4, and I don’t think that’s awful. All I can tell you is that it’s foul shooting. We haven’t done anything other than shoot free throws, and that’s what I always stress.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com