By SEAN NEUGENT
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Remember Tony Freeman? Don’t expect the Northern Iowa Panthers to forget him or Jake Kelly anytime soon. Freeman, Kelly and Justin Johnson shot lights out as the University of Iowa won a big game on the road beating UNI, 62-55, inside the McLeod Center.
Freeman, a junior guard, played his first minutes of the regular season since suffering a fracture in his left foot during Iowa’s exhibition win over Simpson College. Freeman — in 24 minutes — was 5 of 7 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line. He made all three three-point attempts and handed out three assists.
“It was a game-time decision and my guys needed me so I was there for them,” Freeman said. “It was sore through the course of the game, it is sore now and it is going to be sore tomorrow. But when you are playing and all that adrenaline is pumping, you don’t even think about it. I don’t have that first step that I am used to having but that will come with time.”
Iowa improves to 6-4 overall; Northern Iowa lost for just the second time in eight games.
Still less than 100 percent, Freeman looked as healthy as ever as he matched his point total from last season’s 57-55 loss to UNI by halftime. Freeman, who did not start, came into the first half with 12:15 to play and overcompensated for all the time he missed this season.
Freeman torched Northern Iowa for 11 points on 4 of 4 shooting, including 3 of 3 from downtown. He finished the game with 15 points.
“He hasn’t practiced much,” UI Head Coach Todd Lickliter said. “He has just practiced a couple of days. He has a big heart and we still need to work him into some things where he is getting comfortable. He really gave us a competitive edge; he makes the two big free throws at the end and made some big shots and plays. It is good to have him, we always figured we are going to be better with him than without, obviously, but we just had to be patient.”
Freeman’s presence was all the more important after freshman Jeff Peterson, who has had a terrific season and played most of the minutes at point guard this season, did not play because of his grandfather’s death..
Those efforts did not overshadow senior guard Justin Johnson’s first half as he finished with 10 points on 4 of 8 shooting and 2 of 3 from behind the arc. Johnson finished the game with 13 points on 5 of 10 from the field and 3 of 5 from long range.
In what was an exciting two halves of basketball, both teams stayed close on the scoreboard and shot well as Iowa went into intermission leading, 33-30. Iowa shot 13 of 23 (56.5 percent) from the field and 6 of 8 (75 percent) from three-point range. UNI shot 11 of 24 (46 percent) from the floor and 3 of 7 (43 percent) from behind the arc.
For the game, Iowa shot 22 of 44 from the field (50 percent) and 10 of 17 from three-point range (59 percent) in what was the Hawkeyes’ best shooting game of the season. UNI finished with 19 of 45 (42 percent) from the floor and 7 of 18 (39 percent) from three-point land.
The second half started off a little slower than the first. In what was a physical game, intentional fouls were called on each team within the first eight minutes with both coming on a fast-break. The first came from UNI when freshman guard Jake Kelly had a break-away steal and was ripped down at half court by senior guard Jared Josten. Iowa ended up with the two free throws from Kelly but the Hawkeyes were called for an offensive foul on the latter play.
Senior center Seth Gorney was called for the other when he lost the ball and chased down sophomore forward Adam Koch who was hit hard. Koch made 1 of 2 on the free throws as UNI missed on its next possession.
“With a tough team in UNI and a tough crowd we try to do the best we can and not talk back to the refs,” Freeman said. “It was tough but we grew up a lot tonight and we did our best to just keep fighting and come out with the win.”
Kelly took over as the scoring leader in the second half. He broke the game open and gave Iowa its largest lead of the night when he nailed two shots in a row. His jumper came with 9:39 left in the game which was followed up by a three-pointer on the assist from senior forward Kurt Looby with 7:59 to go.
With Kelly’s hot-hand, it put the score at 50-43 in favor of Iowa. Kelly finished with a game-high and personal best 19 points on 6 of 13 from the field and 3 of 5 from behind the arc.
“He played real big,” Freeman said. “He has a good feel for the game. He doesn’t think about his shot or if he is going to turn the ball over, he just played. He is raw and that is what I like about him.”
UNI put a full-court press on the Hawkeyes with a few minutes to go and was once again in reach of taking the lead after a few Iowa turnovers.
Iowa finally broke the press and UNI made a big mistake as it did not want to foul on the possession and with little time on the shot-clock, senior guard Adam Viet fouled Freeman with 35 seconds remaining. Freeman hit the free throws to make the score 60-55. The following UNI possession, the Panthers lost the ball to put the game out of reach.
“Our guys found ways to get the job done — we received contributions from everybody,” Lickliter said. “We had some guys make some big plays. They came back and went up in the second half and we countered. I said this before but I think our guys have shown character and if we can continue to do that, than I told our guys it is not important where you play as how you play. If we can determine how the game is played than we have a chance to be successful. I thought we did that. We controlled the boards and I thought we really defended with a purpose.”
“We showed great resilience tonight and that is the team we are,” Freeman said. “We are a tough team and I am pretty sure that this weekend and next weekend you will start to see us as a whole as we will have our whole team back and you will get to see the real Iowa Hawkeyes.”
Iowa once again was plagued by foul trouble as junior forward Cyrus Tate and freshman forward Jarryd Cole fouled out later in the second half. Cole and Tate — as well as the rest of the other posts — played a big part as they out-rebounded the Panthers 37-16 on the game led by Looby’s seven. Four Hawkeyes had at least five rebounds.
“How about that? I thought our guys were really active on the glass, even getting 13 offensive rebounds so that is exciting,” Lickliter said. “Every guy can contribute in some way with things like effort plays and getting on the floor. Anyone of us can do those plays and if we do them, they will give you a chance.”
Iowa improved one part of its game as the Hawkeyes hit a few clutch free throws. The Hawkeyes did not make it to the line much but made the best of it as they hit 8 of 9 from the charity stripe. UNI, a solid free throw shooting team, struggled from the line going 10 of 19 (53 percent).
The Hawkeyes will continue on in the Big Four of Iowa State, Drake, and UNI when they take on the Cyclones Saturday, Dec. 8, at 1:05 p.m., in Ames.