IOWA CITY — When the starting five need a rest, what’s a coach to do?
Put in reserves.
It’s a simple response, but a luxury No. 18 Iowa hasn’t had for the past few years.
Led by Adam Haluska’s game-high 15 points, the Hawkeyes could show off their newfound depth Saturday with a 79-46 shellacking of Texas-San Antonio inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the first of a four-game home stretch.
“It was a key and big win for us,” Iowa Coach Steve Alford said. “It was a pretty scrappy Texas-San Antonio team that’s going to do some good things in its league, but once we settled down, I thought we really put in a solid final 30 minutes.”
Iowa (4-1) came off its runner-up finish against No. 2 Texas earlier this week in the Guardians Classic to force 23 turnovers and just 36 percent shooting from the Roadrunners (2-1), all while shooting 47 percent from the field and grabbing 42 boards itself.
Texas San Antonio, which started two freshmen and a sophomore, kept it close through the first 14 minutes of the game, getting to within one point with 6:21 left in the period.
Andre Owens, the only senior starter, shot 7 of 15 from the field for 15 points and five rebounds to lead the Roadrunners.
The Hawkeyes finished the first half with a 15-1 flurry — marked by back-to-back 3s by Jeff Horner and Haluska — to get out to their largest lead of the half, a 36-21 advantage heading into intermission.
“I thought from about eight minutes into the game, we really settled in,” Alford said. “We really got comfortable defensively and then we started making some shots. If you’re stopping them and making some shots, then you can really gain some momentum.”
The momentum didn’t carry over to start the second half, according to Alford, who rotated in five bench players at the 16:33 mark.
“I think it just shows our depth and it came at a good point, because I think we may have come out a little flat there,” Haluska said. “It’s nice to be able to have a team that deep and committed to playing hard.”
The bench, led by sophomore Alex Thompson with seven points in the stretch, sparked a 15-4 run midway through the second half. When the starters began to return around the 12-minute mark, they had a 24-point cushion. Through the game, the bench added 25 points.
“They came out and did a good job and did exactly what they were supposed to do,” forward Greg Brunner, who had 14 points and six rebounds, said. “We’ve got great guys and they come in and compete hard, and they do a lot of great things out there.”
Thompson finished with a career-high 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and six rebounds.
“(Alford) put us in for energy and to pick it up and get the guys going,” he said. “Things started to turn around and it felt like he needed us, and it was exciting to get in there.”
Tony Freeman came off the bench and had a team-high four assists, Doug Thomas had a game-high eight boards, and Carlton Reed had a game-high three steals and added six points.
“I think you’re always looking for that out of your bench, and I thought Alex was terrific,” Alford said. “He got some confidence because he made his shot and got on the roll. I really thought Carlton, Alex and Doug were really good off the bench.”
Of the reserves, Freeman was the only true freshman to see playing time.
“They’re not young anymore, they’re very skilled,” Brunner said of his team’s bench. “It’s one of those things. Our guys are very active and they do a lot of good things.”
Reed, who missed the first two games of the year with a bruised tailbone, said the bench will play an increasing role as the Hawkeyes’ season continues.
“We have a great, great starting five, but there’s no way those guys can get it done on their own,” he said. “For the coaches and the team to have a bench they could go to, and the level of play doesn’t drop off, that’s tremendous. And I think (Alford) has a lot of talented players that can come off the bench and contribute.”
Alford noted that three starters have minor injuries that will need treatment before Iowa will be prepared to take on North Carolina State on Wednesday in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
Horner, with a possible high-thigh bruise from early in the first half, saw just nine minutes of court time in the second. According to Alford, Erik Hansen has a “tweaked” ankle and Brunner has a sore knee.
“When people are banged up, for people to get in there and contribute, and just keep things going out there and having coaches on the sideline getting those guys treatment and getting them healthy, plus keep the level of play that we have, I think that’s very, very important for a college basketball team,” Reed said.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com