IOWA CITY, Iowa — Led by a near-perfect night from forward Greg Brunner, No. 14 Iowa overcame a scrappy Fairfield team, 75-59, Friday in the opening round of the Hawkeye Challenge.
Brunner went 8 of 8 from the field and 7 of 8 at the line for a season-high 23 points and 11 rebounds before an announced crowd of 10,002 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes improved to 6-1 with the victory and advance to play Valparaiso at 8:11 p.m. Saturday in the championship game.
“I was better than what I have been,” Brunner said. “I finally felt a little more comfortable, and it was one of those things that I needed.”
The Stags (0-4) beat their season-average 33 percent from beyond the arc to record 12 of 29 3-pointers — the most any team has hit against Iowa this season.
They nailed seven in the first half — including Michael Van Schaick’s buzzer-beating heave from mid-court — that narrowed the Hawkeyes’ halftime lead to 32-29.
“Their effort, I thought, was better than ours in the first half,” Iowa Coach Steve Alford said. “Then we did better in the second half.”
For the game, Fairfield managed just 26.9 percent from the field. Van Schaick had a team-high 17 points on 4-of-11 shooting and seven rebounds. Jonathan Han shot four treys and had 15 points and five boards.
“They made a lot of 3s, and the game’s over and they shoot 26 percent,” Alford said. “I didn’t think we’d lose the game with a team shooting 29 3s. You’re going to have to make a high percentage of those.”
Junior Adam Haluska, who had 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting, said a drive-and-kick offense helped the Stags.
“They were trying to get guys off the dribble, and then they were kicking it out,” he said. “We weren’t rotating like we should.”
Iowa had spurts in the second half and got out to as much as a 10-point lead five times through 17 minutes, but Fairfield had a 3-pointer waiting at every turn.
“At times we were playing well and we’d go up by 10, but we’d let them hit two 3s and get back in the game,” Haluska said. “Erek Hansen did a nice job getting those blocks when we got beat.”
Hansen matched his career-high with seven blocks in the game, five coming in the second half alone.
The Stags couldn’t buy a shot under the basket in the second half, and hit just six two-point baskets the entire game.
Brunner got the Hawkeyes out to a 12-point lead, their largest to that point, with a dunk and a free throw at the 6:50 mark in the second.
But the cushion didn’t last long.
Van Schaick and Danny Oglesby nailed back-to-back 3s to cut the lead in half, but Iowa held the Stags to just six points in the final six minutes and went on a 12-1 run to close it out.
“I just think we picked up the pressure and got into them,” Brunner said of the late run. “Coach challenged us, and it was a perfect time for a challenge and I think we responded the right way.”
Alford said his team could take some positives out of the game, but said the Hawkeyes need to work on rebounds and turnovers.
Iowa had 20 turnovers and seven offensive rebounds, while Fairfield had 16 offensive rebounds which it turned into 16 second-chance points. The Hawkeyes, nevertheless, out-rebounded the Stags, 42-35.
“They have basically five guards in there, and it’s hard, I think, because we’re not used to playing that way,” Brunner said. “It caused us some match-up problems, and we had a tough time getting used to it.”
Iowa will now face Valparaiso (3-0) in the Challenge’s championship game, and the Stags will take on Tulane.
Led by 22 points from Dan Oppland, the Crusaders defeated Tulane, 79-72, in the early game.
Valparaiso shot 40 percent for the game — leading by as many as 22 points in the second half — and held off a late Green Wave comeback run in the closing minutes.
Alford said the coaches have a late-night of preparation before the Hawkeyes have shoot-around at noon Saturday.
“It’ll be a very interesting championship game, and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com