IOWA CITY, Iowa — No. 23 Iowa dominated its own tournament Saturday night and downed unranked UNC-Greensboro, 83-58, to win its 19th-straight Gazette Hawkeye Challenge inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“Obviously, I’m very pleased with the championship and it’s our first championship of the season, and to get two lopsided victories I’m very pleased with that,” said Head Coach Steve Alford.
The Hawkeyes (6-1) picked up their third-straight victory, while the Spartans drop to 4-2 on the year.
Tournament co-MVP Jeff Horner had a season-high 11 assists and scored 14 points, going 4 of 6 from the 3-point line.
“He’s just running the team the way you want a point guard to run a team,” Alford said. “Through only seven games, Jeff’s solidifying himself as just one of the special guards around the country. People are starting to recognize that, and as we win, attention will continue to build.”
Horner put in back-to-back season highs the past two games in the assists category at the expense of his own point production. The junior had led the team with almost a 19-point average, but now leads the team by 16.7.
But that doesn’t bother the Mason City, IA.-native.
“That’s all right with me,” he said. “We beat them by a lot of points, and that’s all that really matters. My teammates were finishing great tonight, and I just got them the ball.”
The Hawkeyes finished at 51 percent for the night and had four players in double figures.
Junior co-captain Pierre Pierce led Iowa with 17 points and six rebounds, while sophomore transfer Adam Haluska also put in 17 with five rebounds and two assists.
Greg Brunner grabbed nine boards – his second best of the season – and scored 12 points.
Iowa got out to as much as a 29-point lead with three minutes to go, sparked by 3-pointers by Haluska and Horner. According to the junior co-captain, though, the team had to slow down before it could really put the points together.
“I just think we got a little bit fast,” Horner said. “We had slowed down and that’s when we started to pull away in the second half. We had more of a transition or two, and that was the difference between the two (halves).”
Iowa had 13 turnovers in the first half and 21 for the game, and it also gave up 21 offensive rebounds for the Spartans. UNC-Greensboro nabbed 21 points on second chances.
“I just thought we were careless with the ball, and I think we were eager,” Alford said. “I love the pace. For the most part we’re still playing at a very good pace, we put a lot pressure on people, and I think that pace is exciting.”
The Hawkeyes only gave up nine turnovers on Friday night in the first round of the Challenge.
“Hopefully with practice we can get better,” the coach said. “We need to get more consistent with how we value with the ball.”
But perhaps the greatest improvement through the tournament is the team’s collective defense. The Spartans were held to 34 percent for the game, led by Kyle Hines with 14 points and Josh Gross with 13.
“I thought we defended things pretty well,” Alford said. “I thought we defended the 3-point line very well, we held another team well below their shooing percentages, so I think we met a lot of our defensive goals today.
“There were some positives there. The points we did give up came off a lot of our carelessness with the ball.”
On the whole, Alford said he was pleased with the effort he’s seen his team. The Hawkeyes have played seven games in 16 days and face intrastate rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State next week.
“I thought there were several things we need to work on throughout this game – I wasn’t happy with our turnovers – but I just really thought our guys battled,” the coach said. “This was a very demanding stretch with an awful lot of travel with it. To come through this 6-1, it’s a tremendous start. Now we know we know we’ve got a big week that we’re very excited about coming up next week.”
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: The all-tournament team consisted of Jasper Johnson of Southern Mississippi, Centenary’s Chad Maclies, Iowa’s Pierce, UNC-Greensboro’s Ricky Hickman, and the Hawkeyes’ Greg Brunner. The tournament had co-MVP’s in Horner and Pierce.
In the consolation round, Southern Mississippi defeated Centenary 70-53 earlier on Saturday.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com