IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s not a play that Iowa Head Coach Steve Alford wants to see very often, but freshman Tony Freeman showed the home crowd and his coaches Monday night that he’s going to try to bring a slightly different look to Hawkeye basketball.
With just about a minute left in the first half, Freeman bounced a pass off the center of the backboard that went straight into the extended arms of Doug Thomas who slammed down a dunk that made the announced crowd of 8,553 go crazy.
“I’m not that flashy I guess,” point guard Jeff Horner said. “But that was definitely an exciting play.”
The play underlined the allowance Alford was going to give a new player in an 86-41 blowout of Maryland-Eastern Shore in both teams’ season opener in the first round of the Guardians Classic inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The 45-point margin is the largest of the Alford era and the biggest since Iowa defeated Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, 96-37, on Dec. 21, 1997, in the San Juan Christmas Shootout.
“Tony came up to me afterward and goes, `Coach, I apologize for the pass because I know if Doug wouldn’t have got a nice dunk out of it I would have been on the bench,'” Alford said. “And he’s probably right.
“He’s a freshman and there’s a fine line there with a balance of the personality,” the coach added. “He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. He’s really doing a nice job for us, so we’re going to give him a little leniency, but that’s not a pass I’d like to see him throw.”
No. 20 Iowa dominated every aspect of the matchup. Greg Brunner led the way with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed seven boards.
The Hawkeyes (1-0) also they could play 40 consistent minutes of basketball. Even with reserves heading into the game, Iowa shot 60 percent from the field in the second half for a 51 percent average for the game.
“With this kind of combined an opener/slash tournament deal, I was very pleased with what we did,” Alford said. “We were really consistent in both halves. There wasn’t a half where we were below average. I thought it was two halves of good basketball at both ends.”
That development was an important one for Alford to see after a sluggish Iowa team cut it close in the first half in the second exhibition game against Wartburg College before blowing it out in the second.
“We didn’t like how we came out against Wartburg in the exhibition game, and coach got on us a little bit,” said Horner, who went 7 of 11 for 16 points. “We definitely had to step it up and that’s what we did.”
Alford said the credit goes to the senior leadership of Horner and Brunner.
“At the start of the game the leadership was very good, and the start of the second half was very good,” he said. “You really have to rely on the leadership of your vets. I thought they did a nice job.”
The Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (0-1) were held to 27 percent shooting for the game, led by Antonio McMillion with 14 points. They had 25 turnovers through the game to six assists.
“I thought our offense had a lot of efficiency to it,” Alford said. “And that’s a pretty solid defense.”
Iowa will now face Colgate on Tuesday at 7:35 p.m. The Raiders (1-0) defeated Utah Valley State, 55-42, in the earlier game Monday. Maryland-Eastern Shore will take on Utah Valley State (0-1) in the consolation game at 5 p.m.
Alford and his players said looking forward to playing in Kansas City against teams like Kentucky, Texas and West Virginia in the later rounds of the classic was not an option.
“It’s easy not to look forward,” Horner said. “We just have to take one game at a time, and I know that clichéd but that’s what we have to do.”
Though, Brunner said, the possibility of playing other preseason ranked opponents is appealing.
“I look forward to going in there and being competitive,” he said. “If we can get down there it’s going to do nothing but help the program. It’s only going to make us more successful at the end of the season.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com