By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A home-court matchup against a depleted and struggling Minnesota squad was just what the Iowa basketball players needed to feel good about themselves again.
At least for one night in late January.
Iowa led almost from start to finish and withstood a couple Gopher rallies in the second half to prevail 94-80 on Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes improved to 3-8 in the Big Ten and 12-12 overall and had six players who scored in double figures, led by sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon with 20 points.
Minnesota has now lost seven of its last eight games and fell to 3-8 in the conference and 14-10 overall.
Bohannon also had 10 assists and made all four of his free-throw attempts and has now made 30 free throws in a row. The former Linn-Mar star needs just four more to tie Chris Street’s school record of 34 consecutive free throws.
"Obviously, his record means a lot to Iowa," Bohannon said of Street, who was killed in a car accident midway through his junior season at Iowa in 1993. "If I get there, I get there. I'm just concentrating on trying to win."
Adding to the fun on Tuesday was that Iowa coach Fran McCaffery also picked up his 400th career victory.
“We just wanted to come out here and have fun and execute and were able to get another win and coach’s 400th,” said sophomore forward Tyler Cook, who recorded his fifth-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds. “We’re going to enjoy this one and move on.”
Iowa’s next game is Saturday at Penn State, which defeated the Hawkeyes 77-73 in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“All I really see is we were better tonight than we were on Saturday, that’s obvious,” McCaffery said in reference to this past Saturday’s 98-84 loss at Nebraska. “So that means we had some maturity. We got back on the plane and go to work on Sunday and go to work on Monday. I thought we had some maturity.
“Now we have to play a team that beat us already and who is playing really well and is really talented and really tough to play in their place. Let’s see if we can go do that on the road. That would be a big step for us to play better than we’ve been playing before on the road against a really good team.”
It also would be a big step for Iowa if sophomore shooting guard Isaiah Moss could have more performances like he did on Tuesday. The 6-foot-5 Moss broke out of a shooting slump by making 4-of-6 3-point baskets and scoring 17 points.
“It just gives me confidence,” Moss said. “Seeing them go in early is good for me. I’m just trying to stay aggressive. The coaches tell me to stay aggressive and my teammates, too.”
One victory against a team in turmoil hardly qualifies as a turnaround. But it was important for Iowa to stop the bleeding and to have something positive occur for a change.
“They’re a really good offensive team,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said of Iowa. “They’ve got a lot of good interchangeable parts. They keep bringing in guys where we don’t have that luxury right now.”
Minnesota was without suspended center Reggie Lynch and injured guard Amir Coffey for Tuesday’s gamne.
Combine their absences with All-Big Ten point guard Nate Mason scoring just seven points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field and the Gophers had too much to overcome in Tuesday’s game.
McCaffery tried to downplay his milestone victory when asked by the media to comment on it.
“All it does for me is remind me of the great players I’ve coached and the great athletic directors that I’ve had,” McCaffery said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to work for some very special people, and I’ve had some real good players.
“You don’t get 400 wins being a great coach. You get 400 wins when you have great players who are committed to one another and committed to being great.”
The first half was typical Iowa in that it played swell in spurts and poorly in others. Iowa bolted to an 11-1 lead, but the Gophers responded with scoring runs of seven and nine points and took its first lead of the game at 19-18 on a basket by Bakary Konate with 8 minutes, 55 seconds left in the first half.
The Gophers expanded the lead to 21-18 but Iowa answered with a 3-pointer by Bohannon and a basket by freshman center Luka Garza, putting the Hawkeyes back on top 23-21 with 7:40 left before halftime.
Iowa struggled big time midway through the first half after McCaffery replaced four of his starters. The offense bogged down and lead quickly disappeared.
Iowa closed the first half with a 9-5 scoring run and led 37-33 at halftime.
Freshman forward Jack Nunge made a trey with 50 seconds left in the first half to give Iowa a four-point lead at halftime.
“I think that’s big for anybody when you knock down that first shot,” Nunge said.
The Gophers had a 21-16 advantage on the boards in the first half, thanks largely to Jordan Murphy’s 10 rebounds, but Iowa shot better from 3-point range in the first half, making 5-of-11 attempts, while Minnesota missed on eight of its 10 shots from 3-point range in the first half.
Murphy finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds and earned praise from Cook, who was matched against Murphy for much of Tuesday’s game.
“It’s always fun,” Cook said. “We’re both competitors. He’s an animal. I’ve got so much respect for that dude.”