IOWA CITY, Iowa — Adam Haluska could have clammed up and let nerves get the better of him Friday night in his first game against his former school.
But the sophomore transfer scored a team-high 20 points and led Iowa to a 70-63 victory over unranked Iowa State before 15,312 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, finishing a clean sweep of in-state rivals.
The game was the sixth event of the inaugural Hy-Vee Cy-Hawk Series, and Iowa now leads the intrastate contest 9-4.
More importantly, Haluska wasn’t surprised by his second-best offensive performance this year.
“I really tried to relax as much as possible, and I told a lot of people that I really wasn’t too concerned because I a lot of people put way too much into this than there really was,” he said. “I just thought about it, and I came out a little earlier this afternoon.
“I was just really focused and I was just really relaxed out there – as much as possible.”
It showed from the beginning.
Haluska helped get Iowa (No. 17 AP; No. 24 ESPN/USA Today) out to an early 13-7 lead in the first five minutes of play with wide-open, back-to-back 3-pointers. His first 3 was the first shot of the game for the Hawkeyes.
“That’s all Adam. There wasn’t anything we did,” Head Coach Steve Alford said. “I talked to him very briefly just asking him if he was OK. I think he just went out and played his game, and I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He was super tonight.”
Iowa (8-1) got out to as much as an 8-point lead in the first half thanks to the quick start powered by Haluska.
“He started out hot, and that’s what we need him to do,” forward Greg Brunner said. “I was little worried about it because that’s a lot of pressure. I appreciate all the stuff he did for us because he did a great job.”
Brunner had a season-high 13 rebounds – one shy of his career best – and 11 points on the night.
The Cyclones (4-2) had trouble getting into a rhythm at the start with two messy turnovers on passes and an inability to get inside. For the game, Iowa State had 16 turnovers to 10 by Iowa.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan said. “My team just made too many mistakes.”
Going into the game, Iowa wanted to force the Cyclones to shoot from outside.
“We knew we wanted to pack it in and force them to shoot from the outside because we knew they had (Jared) Homan in the inside,” guard Pierre Pierce said. “We really wanted to pack it in and force the guards to shoot.”
The strategy worked. And while Homan, a senior center, still scored a game-high 25 points, the Cyclones couldn’t pin down a single 3-pointer and Curtis Stinson and Anthony Davis both fouled out midway through the second half.
Stinson had 14 points through 28 minutes, but his absence through the rest of the game had the opposite effect junior point guard Jeff Horner had expected.
“It actually went the other way than we thought,” said Horner, who had 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds. “They started playing a little bit better. Curtis Stinson is a great player, and we took it for granted that we were going to play better and that didn’t happen. We held them back.”
When Stinson came out, Iowa had a 10-point lead, but two consecutive jumpers by Will Blalock cut the lead back down to six and Iowa State was able to narrow it to one point with two minutes left in the game.
Brunner got the lead back to four with a layup, and the Hawkeyes were able to win the battle of the charity stripe in the final seconds. But the junior forward doesn’t like having to find ways to win close games in the final seconds.
“It’s a good attribute to have, but it’s a scary one too,” Brunner said. “We’re kind of getting into that situation, but it’s better for us to learn now than learn later. Hopefully, we can try to kill that a little bit.”
Alford said the final few seconds reminded him of Tuesday’s game against Northern Iowa, which also came down to last-minute shots.
“It was a very similar scenario,” the coach said. “We controlled the whole game, and we were able to get the stop. We’ve focused on our defense so much I think it’s affecting our offense almost, but we’re getting stops and growing up a little bit on the defensive end.”
Alford said he couldn’t be any happier with his team.
“More than the game itself, this is a great start to the year,” he said. “We were fatigued this week. We were never on the floor more than an hour this week. We have a lot of guys in tests. And with the stretch we’ve had, I couldn’t be more proud of the team.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, and this was a hard-fought game and they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to and found a way to get it done,” the coach added.
Iowa gets a break next week, but returns to action at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18 against Western Carolina.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com