IOWA CITY, Iowa — Jeff Horner’s gauze-packed nose became the rallying point for the Iowa men’s basketball team on Saturday afternoon.
The senior point guard ran into Michigan forward Graham Brown’s hard screen with 4:04 left in the first half, earning a bloody nose and some time on the bench. His teammates rallied off seven straight points in response.
The 23rd-ranked Hawkeyes never looked back and posted a 94-66 blowout against No. 21 Michigan — their largest margin ever against the Wolverines — before a sellout crowd of 15,500 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena to stay atop the Big Ten Conference, while pushing the former co-leader a game back.
“We were fired up,” said Adam Haluska, who led Iowa with 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting with four 3-pointers. “Our leader got his nose busted up a little bit, and coach had our backs.”
When officials failed to call a foul on the play, Hawkeye coach Steve Alford gave them a boisterous rebuke at half court in a media timeout.
“I think when we see our coach get fired up like that, and he’s not even playing, we’ve got to get fired up too,” Horner said. “It just seemed that everything was going well.”
Iowa, undefeated at home this season with a record 14 wins, tied the Carver-Hawkeye record of 15-straight going back to last season. The victory was the sixth against a top 25-ranked team this season (the most since 1991), and Iowa’s 94 points matched the best point total against a Big Ten opponent in the Alford era.
“They really just put it all together this afternoon,” Alford said. “It was a game where we really made some shots and allowed our guys to have a lot of fun. This was a lopsided win against a fantastic team. For us to do what we were able to do today was very pleasing from a coaching standpoint.”
It was, nevertheless, a tough start for Iowa (18-5, 7-2 Big Ten). The Wolverines (16-4, 6-3) got out to a quick eight-point lead in a physical matchup until two 3-pointers by Mike Henderson and another trey by Horner narrowed the lead to one.
At one point, the Hawkeyes nailed eight-consecutive from 3-point range, shooting the sixth-best 3-point percentage (68.4) for a single game. For the game, Iowa shot 65.3 percent from the field — its best offensive performance since December 2004.
“They shot lights out, and there’s not much more I can say,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “A lot of things in this game become contagious, and I thought it was certainly that way for them and in a lot of ways it was that way for us.”
Michigan led by one point with 4:14 left in the first following a layup by Brown. But his screen play followed on the Wolverines next possession and sent the Hawkeyes into a seven-point scoring spurt en route to a 14-5 run that yielded a 42-34 halftime advantage.
“They knew what they had to do, they relaxed, and they really started to sharpen up offensively,” Alford said. “Then they really started to defend. Once they started making some shots, they really took it from there and that’s a good lesson to learn.”
Iowa opened the second half with another 14-5 run to get out to a 17-point lead on a Haluska 3-pointer, and the Wolverines were never able to get closer.
Behind Haluska, Brunner scored 17 on 5-of-7 shooting, Horner put in 14, Henderson added 11, and freshman Tony Freeman recorded 10. Twelve Hawkeyes saw playing time Saturday, all but two reserves posted points.
“It’s hard to beat a team when it’s like that,” Brunner said. “Look at us against Michigan State.”
The Spartans handed Iowa its last lost, at East Lansing, on Jan. 21, 85-55. The Hawkeyes rebounded with wins over 13th-ranked Indiana, No. 16 Ohio State, and at Purdue.
In the same stretch, Horner got rid of a knee brace he had had for eight weeks, which caused a noticeable slump in his performance.
“Anytime your leader busts out like he did, you can ride some momentum there,” Alford said. “I think how our guys responded to a tough loss says everything.
“(Michigan State) beat us every way they could beat us, and yet we were able to come back off that. To get a four-game winning streak after a 30-point loss, I think, really speaks volumes about the kind of characters we have in that locker room,” the coach added.
Brunner, a senior forward, wasn’t about to analyze the difference in his team from the beginning of year — which has given the Hawkeyes the ignoble honor of the worst field goal percentage in the Big Ten (41.6) — to Saturday, when they knocked off the team with the best percentage from the floor (49.7).
“I’m not going to think about it,” he said. “I’m just happy it’s happening finally. At the beginning of the year it was the exact opposite; it was like we had a lid on top of the rim.”
Some of that has to do with Horner regaining his form.
“I think our offense has stepped up a lot,” Horner said. “It was tough playing in the brace, and it was feeling like I was playing with one leg.
“I think (my teammates) saw what I went through with the brace, and they knew I didn’t like wearing it. We’ll see what happens the rest of the year.”
Iowa goes on the road the next two games (Northwestern and Indiana) and returns to Carver Feb. 14 against Michigan State. A limited number of tickets remain available for that game and Iowa’s Mar. 1 date with Penn State. Fans can purchase theirs by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS, purchasing on line by clicking HERE or by visiting the UI Athletic Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Fans should also note that the Hawkeyes’ game against Penn State is also a “Youth Game.” Tickets for boys and girls high school age and younger cost just $10.
Iowa’s final home game of the 2005-06 regular season against Wisconsin on Mar. 4 was announced a sellout earlier this week.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com