IOWA CITY, Iowa — Head Coach Steve Alford called the Hawkeyes’ 88-75 win over Western Carolina a “final exam-week kind of game,” but No. 16 Iowa still extended its winning streak to six games Saturday night inside Carver-Hawkeye arena.
“We didn’t look as sharp mentally as I would have hoped,” Alford said. “It was similar to our game in Dallas against Texas Tech last year. We missed a lot of free throws and layups, and we didn’t finish things and just didn’t get the job done defensively through a 40 minute game.”
Iowa is now 9-1 going into next week’s contest in Chicago against Bobby Knight’s Texas Tech team, and Western Carolina dropped to 5-7 on the year.
The Hawkeyes got out to as much as 19-point lead midway through the first half thanks to an impotent Western Carolina offense that made only two baskets in the first 10 minutes of play.
The Hawkeyes were 12 of 30 in the first led by 13 points by Pierre Pierce on 5 of 8 shooting.
But the Catamounts went on a 21-8 run in the last 7 ½-minutes of the first half sparked by a 3-pointer by Corey Muirhead. Center David Berghoefer led the team with eight points in the run and 10 in the half.
For the game, Berghoefer went 7 of 15 for a team-high 18 points. He was followed by Muirhead and Trey Hopkins who had 13 apiece.
“I was just upset because I thought we played the scoreboard,” Alford said. “I was just disappointed when you have a team down that badly early and you can’t put them away. You’ve got to give them credit for hanging in there and fighting and making a game of it in the first half.”
The Hawkeyes had just a seven-point halftime advantage to a team that’s lost its four previous games to a power-conference opponent by an average of 20 points.
“I just thought we started playing the scoreboard a little too much and got lackadaisical in the first half,” Pierce said. “They didn’t give up and they did a great job competing tonight. Coach got into us during halftime and then we came out and stuck it to them.”
Pierce had a season-high 21 points and eight rebounds through the game.
Alford said that he blamed the co-captains of Jeff Horner, Greg Brunner and Pierce for the defensive letdown that closed the first half.
“I thought our captains got us out to a really good start, and then were really bad through the 10 minute mark on in the first half,” he said. “Sometimes you have to send that message even to your best players, and I think they needed to see that sent to them.”
Iowa responded to the challenge after halftime by going on an 11-6 run, with sophomore Adam Haluska grabbing his first five points of the game in the first five minutes of the second half.
Horner came out shooting in the second half too and grabbed 15 points – including three 3-pointers – in a 4-minute, 18-9 run that helped the Hawks get out to a 23-point lead.
Horner scored all but three of his 20 points in the second half. He also had 10 assists to one turnover and two rebounds.
“He’s a statistical anomaly almost,” Western Carolina coach Steve Shurina said of Horner. “It’s just amazing. And tonight he just made some unbelievable shots.
“I’ve coached and played with a lot of NBA players, and I think he’s definitely going to be playing for a long time for a lot of money.”
The junior from Mason City, IA, responded to every 3-pointer the Catamounts’ Kyle Greathouse put up in the 18-9 stretch. And Horner also made a behind-the-back reverse layup under two post players to end his portion of the game with just about six minutes left.
“I was hoping for a foul,” Horner said. “I went in trying to draw some contact, and I just threw it up there and turned around and it went in. Thank God it went in; otherwise I would have been sitting next to coach.”
Horner is the team’s leading scorer with a 16.5 ppg average, and he has 67 assists. He walked into Saturday night’s game ranked 20th in the nation in the statistical category.
“He’s just shooting the ball really well,” Alford said of Horner. “The thing I like about Jeff is that even when those things aren’t going in, he can beat you in other ways.”
Iowa plays at the United Center in Chicago Tuesday night at 6 o’clock against Texas Tech.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com