By JAMES ALLAN
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and the 10th-seeded University of Iowa men’s basketball team came on strong to claim its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2016.
The Hawkeyes overcame a 13-point first-half deficit to down seventh-seeded Cincinnati, 79-72, on Friday afternoon inside Value City Arena. Iowa improves to 23-11 overall.
Iowa shot 65.4 percent in the second half, making 17-of-26 field goals, including seven 3-pointers. The Hawkeyes shot 54.7 percent (29-of-53) for the game and made 11-of-22 3-point field goals.
Sophomore Luka Garza was a mismatch inside, leading the team with 20 points (on 8-of-11 shooting) to go along with a team-best seven rebounds.
“He was dominant this morning,” said junior Jordan Bohannon. “We know if we fed him the ball down low he was either going to get an easy basket, draw a foul, or kick it out. He did a good job of doing all those three things when he did end up getting the ball.”
Freshman Joe Wieskamp scored 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including four 3-pointers, Bohannon scored 13 — 11 coming in the second half — and senior Nicholas Baer added 10 points.
Playing 100 miles from their campus, Cincinnati stormed out of the gates, jumping out to an 18-5 lead eight minutes into the contest. The Hawkeyes didn’t panic.
Iowa went away from its man-to-man defense in favor of the zone and extended its full-court pressure. Then Garza and Wieskamp got going, scoring the next eight Iowa points to cut the deficit to 20-13 with 9:20 left in the half.
“We made some adjustments, changed the defense, and changed personnel a little bit,” said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. “I think the critical thing is that the players maintained confidence.”
After a Garza 3-pointer closed the gap to 24-19, the Bearcats stretched their lead to 12 points with a 10-3 spurt before Iowa gained momentum boost, closing to within 36-31 on a Bohannon jumper as time expired.
Iowa took its first lead on a Bohannon 3-pointer — from the suburbs of Columbus — before the Bearcats scored eight straight to go up 47-40 with 13:58 remaining. Iowa methodically cut into the deficit and regained the lead at the 11:08 mark on a 3-pointer from redshirt freshman Connor McCaffery.
After the Bearcats went back up four, Iowa fought back to tie the game at 59 on a Wieskamp 3-pointer and Baer gave Iowa the 62-59 lead on a 3-pointer with 5:48 to play.
With the score knotted at 62, Iowa used an 11-2 run to take control. Wieskamp’s 3-pointer put the Hawkeyes up 70-64 and a three-point play from Bohannon put Iowa up 73-64 with 1:07 left.
“As the game progressed, you saw (Joe) become more confident in what he was doing at both ends,” said McCaffery. “He gets 19 points. Hits a huge 3, but he also had a huge shot block at a very critical situation.
“He’s a guy that does a lot of things to help us win. You can count on him to make those kinds of decisions in his head and not be a mistake guy.”
With Cincinnati extending its pressure, Iowa beat it, and Baer put the exclamation point on the win with a two-handed dunk to make the score 77-69 with 26 seconds to play.
Cincinnati’s Justin Jenifer led a group of four Bearcats in double figures, finishing with a career-high 19 points. Jarron Cumberland, the AAC Player of the Year, scored 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting.
QUOTING HEAD COACH FRAN MCCAFFERY
“Thankfully Isaiah (Moss) made two early (field goals) because we were really struggling. It was the five that you’re talking about, but eventually Luka got going. I put (Cook) back in after he had two fouls. He made a couple of buckets, and Joe got a big one. We just settled down. Then you felt like, OK, we can attack this thing successfully.”
- Iowa’s victory moves the Big Ten to 6-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin and Ohio State play later today.
- It was Garza’s eighth 20-point game of the season and 12th of his Iowa career.
- The Hawkeyes have made 10 or more 3-pointers in three of their last four games. Iowa improved to 10-2 this season when making 10 or more triples.
- Iowa handed Cincinnati its first loss of the season when leading at halftime (23-1).
- Iowa has won its last three NCAA Tournament first round games, dating back to 2015. Today marked the program’s 26th NCAA Tournament appearance.
- Iowa improved to 5-1 in neutral site games this season.
ON THE HORIZON
The Hawkeyes advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where they will face the winner of No. 2 Tennessee/No. 15 Colgate on Sunday at a time to be announced.