By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The best thing about Iowa’s game against Savannah State is that it ended in less than two hours and nobody was injured while playing in it.
It also started at noon on Saturday instead of after 8 p.m. on a school night, so that was another positive about Iowa's 110-64 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
And the fan turnout was pretty impressive, considering the game was played three days before Christmas and considering the opponent had absolutely no chance of winning.
Saturday’s attendance was listed at 13,444, which is more than how many fans actually showed up. But the arena still was more than half full for a game that had little to no drama.
The only real drama was whether freshman walk-on Michael Baer would score and he finally came through by making one of Iowa’s school record 19 3-point baskets late in the game.
Michael Baer’s basket drew one of the loudest ovations from the fans. His teammates, including older brother Nicholas Baer, also celebrated wildly on the bench.
“That was awesome,” said Iowa junior point guard Jordan Bohannon. “I think he was the only one that needed to score. It’s nice to see another walk-on come in. His story is just as fascinating as Nicholas’s is, coming from a teram manager and working his way up to be a walk-on on this team and a key part of this team.”
Bohannon showed signs on Saturday that he could be breaking out of a season-long shooting slump as he made 6-of-14 3-point baskets.
“It was nice that I was able to see the ball go in for once,” said Bohannon, who entered Saturday’s game shooting just 32.1 percent from 3-point range. “My shot felt good. I was really open, so I’m not really used to shooting that open shots. But it was nice to see some go in, and obviously, a lot of people played tonight. So it was nice to see them have some confidence.”
Frshman forward Joe Wieskamp also was hot from 3-point range, making 5-of-7 attempts while finishing with a career-high 24 points.
Iowa had seven players who made at least one 3-point basket in Saturday's game.
The only negative to come from Saturday’s beat-down was news that 6-foot-11 sophomore center Luka Garza injured his ankle in practice on Friday. Garza’s lower left leg was wrapped in a boot and he was on crutches.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery wasn’t sure when asked if Garza would play against Purdue on Jan. 3 in West Lafayette, Ind., when Iowa returns to Big Ten action.
Garza almost certainly will miss Iowa’s final nonconference game against Bryant on Dec. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It’s a matter of how he responds,” McCaffery said. “He’s going to go home. He’s got a diligent game play for how to take care of this thing. The next couple days is still ice, ice, ice and get the swelling down. And we’ll see where he is when he gets back.”
Iowa led 19-5 less than five minutes into Saturday’s game and the lead swelled to 45-11 when Riley Till made a free throw with 7 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first half.
Fran McCaffery used all but one of his available players in the first half as Till, Michael Baer and fellow walk-on Austin Ash all played significant minutes in the first half.
Sophomore walk-on guard Nicholas Hobbs was the only Hawkeye in uniform who didn’t play in the first half. The Chicago native did play in the second half, though, and drew a loud ovation when he banked in a 3-point shot from near the Iowa bench with about 6 minutes left to play.
“I have no idea how that went it,” Bohannon said. “
Iowa had very little depth on Saturday with Garza unavailable and with redshirt freshman point guard Connor McCaffery also unable to play due to being in concussion protocol. Connor McCaffery was the victim of friendly fire after taking an accidental elbow to the head from teammate Tyler Cook in the Western Carolina game on Tuesday.
But Connor McCaffery should be ready for Iowa’s next game, according to his father.
Saturday’s game was such a mismatch, though, that it didn’t matter that Iowa was without three of its top players.
Junior forward Cordell Pemsl alos was unavailable after recently having season-ending knee surgery.
“There always is a concern,” Fran McCaffery said of the injuries. “We have had an inordinate amount of sprained ankles, which can set you back long term or short term and changes everything.”
Saturday marked the sixth game this season that Savannah State (3-11) has allowed at least 100 points. The Tigers entered the game allowing 99.4 points per contest.
The game was also one of 12 consecutive road games for Savannah State.
Fran McCaffery can relate to what Savannah State is experiencing after being the head coach at Lehigh, North Carolina-Greensboro and Siena
“Very much so,” McCaffery said. “I’ve coached at one institution where we were totally reliant on guaranteed income. I mean that’s how you pay your bills.”
Iowa now has nearly a week off before its final nonconference game against Bryant on Dec. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Bryant game also shows signs of being a mismatch, so barring an upset, Iowa should finish undefeated (11-0) in nonconference play for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
Then it’s back to the rugged Big Ten to face Purdue in a game that will have major significance despite it being just third conference game.
It’s easy to forget with the Hawkeyes nationally ranked and having won four games in a row that they are 0-2 in conference play with losses to Wisconsin at home at Michigan State.