By JAMES ALLAN
NEW YORK — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team made a statement in NYC.
The Hawkeyes won the 2K Empire Classic title with a 91-72 rout of Connecticut on Friday night inside Madison Square Garden. Iowa dominated in the Big Apple, disposing of No. 13 Oregon on Thursday and handling the Huskies to move to 4-0 for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
“We showed that we learned from last year, we took all the pain and used it over the summer to come out and be a better team,” said Garza, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“We did a good job in every aspect of the game. Everybody that came here stepped up, from Tyler (Cook) to Riley Till, a walk-on who came in against Oregon. We showed we are the next man up with that type of mentality. We came out here and wanted to prove everybody wrong.”
The tournament crown is Iowa’s first in-season since 2007 and the first outside of the state of Iowa since winning the San Juan Christmas Shootout in 1998.
The Hawkeyes rode a three-headed monster of Tyler Cook, Garza, and Connor McCaffery in the victory. Cook led all scorers with 26 points, making 10-of-14 field goals and grabbing eight rebounds, while Garza finished with 22 points and seven rebounds.
Cook was named to the All-Tournament team.
Connor McCaffery was called into action after junior Jordan Bohannon was whistled for two fouls just 89 seconds into the game. Iowa didn’t miss a beat.
McCaffery finished with a career-high 19 points, while dishing out five assists. The guard finished 5-of-8 from the field and 9-of-11 from the free throw stripe.
Iowa shot 51.8 percent from the field, making 29-of-56 field goals, but the damage was done at the free throw line. The Hawkeyes made 29 free throws in 37 attempts; the Huskies were 10-of-15.
Trailing 4-3 in the early going, Iowa took control with a 9-0 run to build a 12-4 lead. Iowa went to Garza and Cook early and often and the duo produced, scoring 27 first-half points. The Huskies scored 27 points as a team in the first 20 minutes.
The Hawkeyes kept their foot on the gas in the second half and were hardly challenged. Iowa pushed its lead to as many as 25 points with 7:04 left in the game.
“The fact that we were able to come into this environment, play against two teams and come out with two victories speaks to our growth as a unit and where we can be in the future if we keep growing and improving,” said Cook.
QUOTING HEAD COACH FRAN MCCAFFERY
“Anytime you come to the Big Apple and win a championship on this court is a great feeling and a tremendous accomplishment. You want to be able to hoist that trophy and you want to be able to watch the players celebrate in the locker room like they did. That’s what it is all about.”
STAT OF THE GAME
One or two games is a start; three and four games is a positive trend for the Hawkeye defense. Iowa continued its stingy, aggressive, and physical play on the defensive end on Friday against Connecticut.
The Hawkeyes forced 13 first-half turnovers and limited the Huskies to 36.7 shooting in a first half when Iowa built its lead. Connecticut went 0-for-8 in the first half from 3-point range and finished 4-of-26 from the distance. The Huskies made 12 3-pointers Thursday in the win over Syracuse.
“We wanted to come out and put an emphasis on their 3-point shooting,” said Connor McCaffery. “They have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball. We wanted to make sure we were contesting their 3s, but also make sure we were closing out and defending the drive because they’re all so quick.”
- Iowa finished the game with 16 offensive rebounds, turning it into 20 second-chance points.
- McCaffery finished with five of Iowa’s 14 assists and had one turnover in 29 minutes.
- The Hawkeyes dominated the rebounding battle, 43-31, with Cook and Nicholas Baer grabbing eight apiece.
ON THE HORIZON
Iowa returns to action Wednesday, hosting Alabama State at 7:30 p.m. (CT) on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tickets are available at hawkeyesports.com.tickets.