By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A win of any kind always deserves some appreciation, but the Iowa men’s basketball team did little to inspire confidence with its 77-63 season-opening win over Missouri-Kansas City.
A game that Iowa should’ve dominated under almost any circumstance instead was close until about midway through the second half when the Hawkeyes finally started to convert in their half-court offense with some consistency.
Junior point guard Jordan Bohannon made his first and only 3-point basket of the game to give Iowa its first double-digit lead of the game at 50-38 with 12 minutes, 48 seconds left in the second half.
The Kangaroos never crept closer than eight points for the remainder of the game as Iowa improved to 8-1 in season openers under Fran McCaffery.
But Iowa also struggled to pull away from a 23-point underdog that had finished just 10-22 last season.
It wasn’t until the final four minutes of the game when Iowa finally started to build some cushion with the lead.
The Hawkeyes struggled on offense throughout the game, making just 21-of-47 field-goal attempts and committing 16 turnovers to go along with 15 assists.
And offense is supposed to be Iowa’s strength.
“It was kind of funny and we kind of joked around about it in the locker room that this is kind of the first time that offense has kind of been our problem for a little bit,’ said Iowa junior forward Ryan Kriener. “Our offense was a little stagnant and our defense really held us in there. So we were all really proud about that.”
There is lots of uncertainty surrounding this Iowa team in the wake of last season when the Hawkeyes suffered through a stunning decline, finishing 4-14 in the Big Ten and 14-19 overall.
Defense was Iowa’s biggest flaw last season, and much of the offseason was spent trying to fix it.
UMKC’s point total would suggest that Iowa played well on defense, but it was hard to tell because the Kangaroos missed a bunch of open shots.
Iowa also missed a bunch of shots, including some that were ill-advised because of where from on the court they were taken or because of when they were taken in relation to the shot clock.
“In the first half, we took 17 threes and eight two-point shots, so I was really disappointed in that aspect,” said Fran McCaffery. “I felt that we had an advantage in the post offensively and I wanted to try and exploit that and we were jacking threes.
“Now that said, we had good shooters shooting some open threes and they didn’t go. But what ultimately I think was the difference was 38 free throw attempts. Now we missed 10 shots, but we made 28. So you’ve got to throw it inside and you’ve got to drive the ball. You can’t settle for threes when a team is really competing and up in your face.”
Freshman Joe Wieskamp led four Iowa players in double figures with 15 points, and was 4-of-6 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-6 Muscatine native also led Iowa in scoring in the exhibition game last Sunday with 16 points.
“It’s kind of what we expect,” McCaffery said. “He just plays and has got a real good feel and is very confident in himself. The game comes easy to him. If he’s open, he shoots it. If there’s space, he drives it. If he’s covered, he moves it on and he plays both ends of the floor.
“He played really good defense tonight, I thought. He was physical and tough and I’m just really thrilled for him, and we can be satisfied with what he’s done. But as you can tell, there’s a lot more in there. He’s going to be special.”
Iowa had nine players who scored at least three points and the second unit was on the court when the Hawkeyes made a run midway through the second half.
“The second unit was great today,” said Iowa forward Tyler Cook, who finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists. “They came in and gave us a lot of energy when our first unit didn’t have it.”
Junior guard Maishe Dailey helped lead the second unit with 11 points and two assists.
“We don’t really consider ourselves as a second five,” Dailey said. “We feel like when the bench comes in, there’s no drop off from the starters.”
Dailey considers his role to be a defensive stopper, but he also showed in Thursday’s game that he can score.
Thursday’s game didn’t start well from a defensive standout as the Kangaroos scored their first three baskets quickly and in the paint, including two lay-ups, with one coming in transition.
The offense wasn’t any better early on as Iowa came out firing from 3-point range, often shooting quick and uncontested shots from 3-point range, and the only reason they were uncontested is because they were ill-advised shots.
Iowa attempted nine 3-point shots in the first seven minutes of the game and made three.
Wieskamp was the only Hawkeye to shoot well from 3-point range in the first half. His fourth trey of the first half expanded Iowa’s lead 27-22 with 4:30 remaining.
But Wieskamp also picked up his second foul with 3:25 left in the first half and then spent the rest of the half on the bench watching team his go without making a basket for the remainder of the half.
Iowa’s final basket of the first half was Wieskamp’s 3-pointer with 4:30 remaining.
The Hawkeyes still were able to expand on the lead by making 7-of-8 free throws in the final 2:19 of the first half, which ended with Iowa leading 34-26.
It would seem that holding UMKC to just 26 points in the first half was a testimony to Iowa performing well on defense. But it was hard to tell because the Kangaroos missed a bunch of uncontested shots around the basket and because they took some questionable shots.
Wieskamp was clearly the lone bright spot in the first half as he made all but one of Iowa’s five 3-point baskets in the half. Junior guard Isaiah Moss made the other.
Wieskamp also seemed locked in and defense and did the little things such as take away the baseline, which Iowa so desperately needs to improve on defense.
“My teammates and coaches have the utmost confidence in me, so that confidence carries over,” Wieskamp said. I just go out there and play my game and I know I can score the ball and do a lot of things to help this team win.”
Iowa will face Wisconsin-Green Bay in its next game at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Nunge to redshirt: Iowa announced before Thursday's game that sophomore forward Jack Nunge would redshirt this season. He will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.