IOWA CITY, Iowa — Head Coach Steve Alford put up a sign in the locker room before Iowa took on unranked Purdue Saturday afternoon. It read: The bench has got to be ready.
His players responded, and the Hawkeyes (No. 23 AP; No. 24 ESPN/USA Today) downed the Boilermakers, 71–57, inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“What a time for our bench to come through,” Alford said. “I thought our bench gave us an awful lot of energy, and they were ready to play.”
The Hawkeyes’ bench put in 21 points, hitting 10-of-21 from the field, and grabbing 14 rebounds, seven assists and four steals – led by junior Doug Thomas, with a team-high 14 points.
With such a quick turnaround between playing No.1-ranked Illinois in Assembly Hall and a Purdue team coming off a solid performance at Michigan State, Alford said the bench was critical.
“I thought they got their confidence back,” Alford said, “and I hope we can build off of it.”
Thomas came off the bench with 14:23 left in the first half, but it didn’t take him long to make an impact. Just 20 seconds later, he got a dunk to push Iowa up 12-6.
Thomas scored 12 points in the half to pace the Hawkeyes (14-4, 2-3 Big Ten) in the period – 10 off of dunks, including showy behind-the-back assists by Mike Henderson and Carlton Reed.
When Reed and Thomas connected after a long fast-break pass by Jeff Horner, after he grabbed a steal, the slam dunk got Iowa out to its largest lead of the first half – 21 points.
“I had my eyes stuck to Carlton the whole time,” Thomas said. “I’m just trying to give a spark to my team and that’s what I did tonight.”
Horner had 13 points in the game.
“Thomas came in and ignited us, getting a lot of dunks,” Horner said. “That’s what we need those guys to do. Our bench came in and did a good job, and that’s why our offense was so good in the first half.”
Iowa forward Greg Brunner, who tied Thomas with 14 points, also praised the bench.
“Our bench won us that game,” he said. “They played very well. That’s stuff we need for the rest of the Big Ten season.”
Purdue’s Brandon McKnight came back with a 3-pointer with two seconds left to close the half with a 38-20 Iowa advantage. He was the Boilermaker’s biggest scorer with six points in the half.
Purdue (4-12, 0-6) didn’t have an advantage in any statistical category at intermission.
Head Coach Gene Keady said that halftime deficit was a result of not getting into an offensive rhythm.
“We have a tough time maintaining drives and hunger,” Keady said. “They just played better than we did.
“They did the things they had to do to win.”
Keady also praised the inside work of Brunner, who despite being just 6-foot-7, managed to get key layups and rebounds. Brunner had a game-high 11 rebounds.
“He has a big heart and good technique,” the longtime coach said. “He also has a sense of the urgency to win. He plays like he’s a 1950s player. Kids nowadays are spoiled, and it’s a world of difference.”
Brunner said he was impressed by the compliment from the coach.
“That’s the greatest honor,” he said. “I have all the respect in the world for that guy. I think he’s a great coach. If he thinks I’m a great player, I really appreciate that.”
Three-pointers by the Boilmakers’ Chris Hartley and David Teague tried to stop the bleeding in the first two minutes of the second half – cutting Iowa’s lead to 16.
Hartley nailed another two 3s midway through the half to keep Purdue’s deficit to 16, and Teague nailed back-to-back 3-pointers in 30 seconds with four minutes to play to narrow the lead to 15.
But that margin was as close as Purdue got until Carl Landry got five points in the final minute. Landry had a game-high 16 points, and Teague recorded 11 for the game.
Iowa limited Purdue to 20-of-50 from the field, and Alford said his team’s defense has improved since opening conference play 0-2.
“I’m proud over the last 10 days how we’ve grown defensively,” the coach said. “If we want to do what we want, it’s going to happen defensively.”
Iowa next travels to Northwestern for a 7 p.m. tip-off on Wednesday.
THE KEADY FAREWELL TOUR: Purdue Coach Gene Keady, who announced his retirement at the start of the season, was honored prior to the game inside Carver with a standing ovation.
Head Coach Steve Alford gave Keady a plaque and a golfing vacation to Las Vegas.
“I know my wife will go there,” Keady said. “It’s very much appreciated.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com