By JAMES ALLAN
LAS VEGAS — Down goes the defending NCAA runner-up.
The University of Iowa men’s basketball team survived a second-half rally from No. 12 Texas Tech before posting a run-away, 72-61, victory Thursday night to advance to the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational.
“I am so proud of this team,” said redshirt freshman CJ Fredrick. “We have been locked in ever since the Cal Poly game. We were locked in all film sessions and had great practices. Then to go out, fight, and execute the game plan, I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates. We have to keep it rolling.”
The Red Raiders trailed 52-43 with 6:32 remaining before reeling off seven straight points, closing to 52-50 with 5:10 remaining. Junior Luka Garza followed with a three-point play and Jordan Bohannon’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 60-52 with 2:52 left.
Texas Tech kept coming, scoring seven of eight points to get to within 61-59 with 1:58 left. On Iowa’s ensuing possession, Bohannon threw up a 3-pointer, but it failed to draw iron. Redshirt junior Cordell Pemsl secured the rebound and found Fredrick on the left wing.
Without hesitation, the redshirt freshman launched a 3-point attempt over Davide Moretti with the shot clock winding down and it splashed home, extending Iowa’s lead to 64-59.
“That was a big rebound by Cordell,” said Fredrick. “If he doesn’t get that rebound, I don’t get that shot.”
“He has always had that clutch gene,” said head coach Fran McCaffery. “When he let that go, I knew it was in. I wasn’t surprised and he wasn’t surprised, then he turns around and makes two free throws. It’s who he is.”
The Hawkeyes put the game away at the free throw line, making all eight of their attempts in the closing minutes.
“We executed down the stretch and ran our plays correctly,” said Garza. “We got it where we needed to. Besides me missing a couple of free throws, we were flawless the last four minutes. That’s what we need to do when we get a lead. We have to execute and put teams away to get away with a W, especially against a team like that.”
Bohannon paced Iowa with 20 points on four 3-pointers and an 8-for-8 effort from the free throw line. Garza notched his fourth double-double, finishing with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 12 rebounds, sophomore Joe Wieskamp had 16 points — 13 in the first half — and six boards, and Fredrick added 10 points.
Iowa shot 41.1 percent for the game and made 11 3-pointers. Defensively, the Hawkeyes limited Texas Tech to 32.8 percent and the Red Raiders went just 4-of-24 from 3-point range.
Iowa came out of the gates firing, making four of its first five 3-pointers to start the game. Wieskamp made three of his first four 3-point attempts, helping the Hawkeyes open up a 19-10 lead eight minutes in.
After Texas Tech closed to 19-17, Iowa went on a 12-2 run to open up a 31-19 lead. The Hawkeyes led by many as 15 points (36-21) before taking a 36-26 lead into the break.
QUOTING COACH MCCAFFERY
“You can’t play that team and not be physical. You’ll get man-handled. We matched their physicality and the important thing is to compete with that level of physicality to control your emotions and not lose your composure. It’s all about pace and composure, that’s crucial.”
DEFENSE DOES IT
The Hawkeyes handed the Red Raiders their first loss with a strong defensive effort. Iowa held Texas Tech to 32.8 percent shooting — the lowest by an opponent this season — and forced 11 turnovers.
“This is one of our best defensive performances that I have been a part of at Iowa,” said Garza. “We were making it tough on their guys, we limited (Jahmi’us) Ramsey and (Davide) Morretti. We’re not done yet, we’re going to come out with the same defensive intensity because that’s how we have to be to win.
- For the second straight year, Iowa will be playing in a Thanksgiving tournament championship game (2K Empire Classic in 2018).
- Joe Wieskamp scored in double digits for the fifth time, netting 16 points.
- Jordan Bohannon scored a game-high 20 points and was credited with a season-high six assists tonight, surpassing Ronnie Lester for sixth on Iowa’s all-time assists chart.
- Iowa made a season-high 11 3-poiners tonight, a season-high four by both Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon.
- Iowa assisted on 20 of 23 field goals. Including 13 of 14 in the first half.
Iowa will play in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational Championship on Friday at 7 p.m. (CT) against either Creighton or San Diego State.