IOWA CITY, Iowa — Preseason jitters gone, Iowa dispatched Western Illinois 85-62 Friday night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
With a perfect 20-of-20 from the line – a new arena record, forcing 26 turnovers on the Leathernecks, and balanced scoring from their guards, the Hawkeyes were unstoppable in the season opener.
“I thought this was really a good start for us,” Head Coach Steve Alford said. “I really enjoyed watching our guys compete. I thought they gave us great effort and really defended well.”
The Hawkeyes went on a dunking extravaganza to close the first half of play, sparked by newcomer Doug Thomas, who had three. The 6-foot-8 native of Pasadena, CA., came off the bench for 14 points – a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and 6-of-6 at the line.
But Thomas’ first minute didn’t bode well for junior transfer.
“Doug, I thought, was very anxious in the first minute and a half,” Alford said. “He usually responds to a pretty good chewing. After a good chewing, he really responded.”
Says Thomas: “When I first came in, it didn’t feel like it was there for me. Coach Alford pulled me to the side and told me I needed to start running and rebounding. I just started busting down the court and rebounding and getting the points that came to me.”
And busting Thomas did. In 21 minutes of play, he led the team with a game-high nine rebounds and even put in an assist.
But it was the dunks that energized the team and got the crowd of 10,004 really going.
“We probably had more dunks tonight than we had all last year combined,” Alford said. “Doug sparks that. Doug is a very athletic player, and he does a very good job with the minutes he got.”
For Thomas, the drive to the basket is a matter of efficiency.
“If I get the ball and I can see the line, why take a 15-foot jump shot if I can take two more steps and bring the house down?” he asked. “Of course, everybody loves some shots, but the crowd loves some show time, so that’s what I’m going to give them.”
For another anxious player donning the Black and Gold for the first time in competition, Thomas’ energy was uplifting.
“I think Doug gives everybody a lot of energy, especially the crowd,” sophomore transfer Adam Haluska said. “He has some pretty nasty dunks. He gets the team going and the crowd going, and I think that contributed to our first half spurt.”
Haluska, who’s been nursed back from two injuries that took him off the court for two weeks, says he’s starting to feel more comfortable on the court as well. His line certainly shows it.
The guard scored 14 points, two assists and a rebound in his first go as a Hawkeye.
“I’m still a bit shaky and nervous out there, but hopefully when I get out to Maui things will pick up, now that I’ve got this game under my belt,” he said. “I love this team and the guys on it. It’s a fun team to play for.”
Alford said Haluska’s unsuccessful exhibition game last Sunday was good for him to get the kinks of injury worked out.
“He’s still rusty from the standpoint of not playing for two weeks, but this was good for him,” Alford said. “I still think the key was getting him over what we had to get over in that second exhibition game. If not, this game would have been that game. To his credit, our trainers’ credit, they got him back and that was a big key tonight.”
Alford credited his guard play generally. Pierre Pierce put in a game-high 16 points and six assists, and Jeff Horner added 10 with six assists and four rebounds.
“Our guards are very capable of big nights in scoring, rebounding and assists,” Alford said. “I thought that was a good start for them.”
The team went from locker room to bus on Friday night to catch an early-morning flight from Des Moines to Denver to Los Angeles and then to Maui, Hawaii.
The team will play Louisville at 4:05 p.m. Monday in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com