By SEAN NEUGENT
IOWA CITY– The Todd Lickliter era officially kicked off and in winning fashion as the University of Iowa dominated Idaho State, 58-43, in its first regular-season men’s basketball game of the 2007-08 season Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa has quickly found replacements for Adam Haluska and Mike Henderson, who both graduated last season. Senior sharp-shooting guard Justin Johnson, who played a key role as a bench player last season, nailed two three-point field goals in the opening minutes and the Hawkeyes never looked back.
“He has a skill and his responsibility is to use that skill,” Lickliter said. “He has a terrific skill to shoot it and we all enjoy that. He is very capable of shooting the ball like that and it doesn’t surprise me at all. In a team setting, it is important to understand one role doesn’t overshadow another. You complement one another and I think they understand that. Justin did his job and did it well and I am happy for him, but so did a lot of guys and I think he would be the first to tell you that it is enjoyable when you do it together.”
The Hawkeyes look to be alright in the wake of junior guard Tony Freeman’s foot injury that will sideline him up to six weeks. Freshman Jeff Peterson took his place and drilled the Bengals for 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists in the first half.
Iowa flew all over the floor for the ball in Lickliter’s aggressive style of play, taking a 20-14 advantage on the boards in the first half, led by Kurt Looby with five rebounds. Iowa grabbed a 31-16 lead going into intermission, the largest lead of the half. The trifecta was in fine shape as Johnson, Peterson and sophomore Dan Bohall combined to hit 5 of 9 three-pointers.
An aggressive Iowa defense stuffed the Bengal offense, holding them to 7 of 26 from the field and 1 of 14 from three point land.
The second half started the same as the first with a quick Johnson three-pointer. Iowa looked to Johnson the rest of the night as he continued raining 3’s as he finished with seven. The seven three pointers ties for the third-best single game in Iowa history. On the other side of the ball, Idaho State will have a hangover following the 1 for 20 night from behind the arc.
Iowa continued to rock the boards in the second half as the Hawkeyes pulled down 39 rebounds to just 28 by the Bengals. The Hawkeyes were led by Looby with 10 and Tate with eight.
Johnson paced the Hawkeyes with 21 points on 7 of 14 shooting. Peterson also turned in an impressive performance with 12 points, nine assists and astounding zero turnovers in 38 minutes of play.
“As a freshman, he did a good job of controlling the ball and the game,” Johnson said. “I knew I had to follow through and make the shots.”
“Obviously you look at it and say nine assists and zero turnovers, that is super,” Lickliter said. “So much of it is just an understanding of the game and playing within yourself. He understands what is to be accomplished; he can focus on the task at hand. At the end of the game those add up to be success. He has a good perspective.”
Overall, the Hawkeyes gave what Lickliter wanted — a team effort. Eight players scored and five players scored at least five points.
“We know we have to play as a team,” Johnson said. “We know if we play as a team we will do well on defense and offense.”
“There are definite areas where we can get better,” Lickliter said. “Their approach is what we needed it to be. Can we get better? Yes, I think so.”
Iowa remains home to take on Northern Colorado next Wednesday night at 8:05.