IOWA CITY, Iowa — Forward Greg Brunner got his fifth straight double-double Thursday night, as No. 25 Iowa smothered Robert Morris, 73-51, inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Just don’t try to get him to talk about it.
“Yep. Yep. Yep. Fine. Fine. Fine. That’s all I’m saying,” the senior said. “No double-double talks.”
Trying to avoid a jinx?
“It’s worked so far,” Brunner responded. “Rebounding’s fun and I love it. It’s what I do. It’s just what I’ve always loved to do. It’s going to help the team the more I rebound.”
Brunner scored 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting and grabbed 10 boards for his seventh double-double this season and the 27th of his career, as the Hawkeyes (10-3) remain undefeated inside Carver-Hawkeye this season.
“I pretty much know what I’m going to get out of Bru and Jeff (Horner),” Head Coach Steve Alford said. “They’ve been blue collar workers who’ve been there every night. They’re extremely consistent players.”
Brunner said the consistency is simply a result of practice.
“When the ball comes to the rim you’ve got to be ready to grab it,” he said. “I was taught when I was young to rebound out of your area, and that’s the tough thing to do and something I’ve really tried to hone in on.”
Brunner’s play also won the praise of Robert Morris Coach Mark Schmidt.
“I was really impressed with the way Brunner and (Adam) Haluska played,” he said. “We didn’t have an answer for Brunner.”
Haluska scored a game-high 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting and had nine rebounds and four assists. For the game, Iowa went 26 of 64 from the floor (45 percent).
But, Alford said, the junior may not be over all his shooting woes.
“Only time will tell,” he said. “I thought he shot the ball very well, but Adam’s a guy who can grow into a lot of things.”
Haluska said it was a matter of confidence. He scored 11 points the entire game against Drake on Tuesday but had the same number by halftime Thursday.
“Every time I touch the ball I’ve got to have confidence that they’re going to go in,” Haluska said. “You miss the shots you don’t even take. I’ve got to be willing to take those.”
Free throws by Tony Lee tied the game at 10 for the Colonials early in the first half, and Jeremy Chappell grabbed a put back with 11:15 on the clock to keep the game within two.
Lee scored a team-high 17 points for Robert Morris and Chappell added 11 with 12 rebounds.
But a 13-3 run, including back-to-back jumpers by Tony Freeman, got Iowa out to a 29-17 lead by the five-minute mark.
Robert Morris responded with a layup by A.J. Jackson and a 3-pointer by Chappell to trim the Hawkeye lead to 29-22, but it was the closest the Colonials (4-5) would get the rest of the game.
The Hawkeyes fired off 12 unanswered points, with consecutive 3-pointers by Haluska and Freeman, to end the half with a 41-22 advantage.
“If we can compete with these guys to a certain point it will give us a little confidence,” Schmidt said. “We got tested. We didn’t hang in there the whole game.”
Iowa kept Robert Morris scoreless for 6 minutes, 14 seconds between the end of the first half and the start of the second, which was a credit to the Iowa defense according to Alford. For the game, the Colonials hit just 19 of 26 (31 percent).
“I really appreciate their effort defensively,” he said. “I thought we controlled things defensively.”
Erek Hansen and Doug Thomas limited Jackson, who had been the Colonials’ leading scorer at 16 points a game, to two points and five rebounds, as the forward got into foul trouble early in the game.
“We can’t forget about our personality on the defensive end, and there’s not a more key person on our defense than Erek Hansen,” Alford said. “I just think he changes things, and he changes how people guard us.”
Schmidt credited Hansen and Thomas for their defensive performance as well.
“A.J. Jackson is at our level in Division I a force, and today he couldn’t get much because of their size,” the coach said. “That presented a lot of problems.”
Thomas was the Hawkeyes’ third-leading scorer with 10 points, including back-to-back dunks midway through the second half. He also had four rebounds and three steals.
But the 6-foot, 8-inch forward isn’t likely to replace Hansen, a center, in the lineup, according to Alford. Hansen had four points and five rebounds, but his four blocks caught the eye of his coach.
“I think a lot of people make big deals out of starting lineups, but I’m not one of them,” Alford said. “We started (Thomas) a few times last year, and it didn’t work. It’s not like we wouldn’t do it again, but he does give us a spark off the bench. I kind of like what’s happening center-wise. Four blocked shots in a 15 minute period is pretty good.”
Thomas isn’t fixated on his role as an “energy guy” off the bench.
“As a senior I would like to start, but the No. 2 pick in the first round of the draft was the sixth man off the bench. I take that to put it in perspective,” he said, referring to Marvin Williams from North Carolina who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks.
“But if I can get a chance to start, then I’m going to play even harder, because I’d be one of the first five out there,” Thomas added.
Alford will have plenty of time to think about possible starting lineups. The Hawkeyes don’t return to action until Dec. 30 against Saint Louis at the Savvis Center, and Iowa has a three-day break for the holidays.
“This has really been a grind for the guys. I could really sense some weary legs,” Alford said. “To get through this stretch and have 10 wins, our guys have done a lot of positive things.”
Brunner agreed with his coach.
“It was a long grind,” he said. “It was 13 games in a short period. It’s helped to be out there and playing, but now we’ve got to have a break and spend time with our friends and family.”
The break will also see the return of point guard Jeff Horner, who Alford said is likely to return from a knee injury that’s forced the senior to miss the only four games of his collegiate career. Horner’s been out since Dec. 6.
“I’m not a doctor but all expectations are for him to be back for (Saint Louis),” Alford said. “The way they’re playing Gonzaga, we’re going to need to get them back. It’s a tough road game. That’ll be a great matchup for us. I’d assume he’ll play.”
Saint Louis lost 60-57 to eighth-ranked Gonzaga in a close-contest on Thursday.
Haluska said the return of the Hawkeyes’ starting point guard will only help the team.
“I think Jeff is just our floor leader out there,” he said. “Once he comes back, people will pick up where they left off. I think he’ll just be there to maintain and get us in our sets.
“We’re 3-1 without Jeff, but we look forward to having him back.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com