By JAMES ALLAN
NEW YORK — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team controlled 13th-ranked Oregon from start-to-finish in a 77-69 victory in the semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The win sends the Hawkeyes to the championship game, where they will face Connecticut on Friday at 6 p.m. (CT). The Huskies defeated No. 15 Syracuse, 83-76, in the first game Thursday.
The Hawkeyes won with balance — nine different players scored. Junior Jordan Bohannon led the way with 16 points, sophomore Luka Garza had 12, and junior Ryan Kriener finished with 11. Junior Tyler Cook had nine points and 10 rebounds, while three more Hawkeyes scored seven or more points.
Iowa’s offensive balance was impressive, but the Hawkeyes prevailed because of their defense. Oregon shot 37.7 percent for the game, making 23-of-62 field goals (the Ducks shot just 25.8 percent in the first half). The Hawkeyes dominated on the glass, 46-34.
Iowa stormed out to an 8-0 lead behind a driving layup from Cook, an Isaiah Moss 3-pointer, and Bohannon jumper. The Hawkeyes made eight of their first 14 shots to build a 21-9 lead.
Oregon closed the gap to 28-24 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half, but Iowa followed with an 11-0 spurt behind 3-pointers from Bohannon, Kriener, and Maishe Dailey to build a 39-24 lead.
The Hawkeyes made eight first-half 3-pointer as they took a 39-28 lead into the break.
“Our goal was to get this to 15 at the end of the half, but we held the lead the first four minutes because we knew they were going to come out energetic in the second half,” said Bohannon. “We responded well in the second half.
“We saw a little frustration and we knew we had them. We tried to keep pushing forward and be able to come with the victory.”
The Ducks tried rallying in the second half, but Iowa kept Oregon at bay. After the Ducks closed the gap to 45-38 on a Bol Bol layup, Iowa got three looks on a single possession from 3-point range and Joe Wieskamp’s 3 from the corner made the score 48-38.
It was an eight-point game with four minutes left when a Garza 3-pointer served as a dagger. The sophomore confidently drained a 3-pointer to put Iowa up 11 and Iowa made its free throws to advance to Friday’s championship game.
QUOTING HEAD COACH FRAN MCCAFFERY
“I am proud of Riley Till, he played well. We were down Cordell (Pemsl), so I told Riley yesterday, you’re No. 10 and you’re going to be in there. He fought defensively and was always in the right place.
“That second unit had to get us home with the lead. We had an 11-point lead (in the first half) for a reason and we had four of our five starters with two fouls. Here we are on a big stage against a ranked team and they performed well.”
STAT OF THE GAME
Iowa made 29 of 33 free throws in the game. The Hawkeyes have made 28, 34, and now 29 free throws in their first three games. Iowa made 28-of-30 attempts in the second half.
“If they’re going to be physical and foul you and you’re in the double bonus, you have to step up and make them and we did,” said McCaffery.
- The Hawkeyes made a season-high 10 3-pointers in the victory.
- The victory is Iowa’s first over a ranked opponent since March 2, 2017 — a 59-57 win over No. 22 Wisconsin. Iowa’s last win over a ranked opponent on a neutral floor was an 84-61 win over No. 20 Wichita State on Nov. 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.
- Friday’s game against Connecticut will be the fourth meeting all-time. Iowa leads the series 2-1 after winning the 1999 matchup 70-68 in New York in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. It was Steve Alford’s first game as Iowa’s head coach.
ON THE HORIZON
Friday’s game will begin at 6 p.m. (CT) and it will be televised on ESPN2.