By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa men’s basketball team received some much-needed Southern hospitality on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Losers of four games in a row and six of their last seven games overall, the Hawkeyes desperately needed to face an opponent that would qualify as an underdog and the Southern Jaguars certainly fit that description.
Southern entered Sunday’s game with a 2-7 record and probably with a serious case of jet lag, considering the team didn’t arrive in Iowa City until midnight after losing at Central Florida on Saturday.
The Jaguars hung tough until Iowa rallied late in the first half and then pulled away in the second half to prevail, 91-60 before an announced crowd of 11,397 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Southern was leading 23-17 when Iowa sophomore guard Maishe Dailey made a 3-point basket with 8 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first half.
Dailey made another trey to cut the lead to 25-23 with 6:32 remaining in the first half. His trey triggered a 21-6 scoring run by Iowa to close the first half.
Dailey also assisted on a 3-pointer by Nicholas Baer that gave Iowa a 26-25 lead with 5:29 left in the first half.
Southern made a free throw to tie the score at 26, but never led in the game again.
“That was a crucial point in the game,” Dailey said. “I felt like I could help my team out in a lot of ways. Defense and guarding the point guard, making open shots.
“When I get a rebound everybody on my team is comfortable with me pushing the ball and being a point guard for that possession and that’s what I did with Baer.”
Junior guard Brady Ellingson made a 3-pointer right before the halftime buzzer to give Iowa a 41-31 lead at the break.
Freshman center Luka Garza broke out of a slump by scoring a career-high 23 points, including 14 in the first half. The 6-foot-11 Washington D.C. native also dominated on the boards with a career-high 13 rebounds.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery took a chance by inserting Garza back in the game late in the first half after Garza had picked up two fouls. But the gamble paid off as Garza scored 10 points in the final 5 minutes of the first half.
“I thought his awareness and impact on the game was tremendous today,” McCaffery said.
The guards for Southern had a decisive advantage in quickness and they used it repeatedly in the first half to get to the basket for easy looks for themselves and for their teammates.
But Iowa eventually used its size and depth to seize the momentum, and the Jaguars then unraveled in the second half.
“It just feels great to win,” Garza said. “It felt good out there. I just tried to come off the bench and give some enery. We switched the starting lineup, but that doesn’t change my mentality. So I came out there with some energy and tried to gjve us a boost.
“We came out a little bit flat and couldn’t get any sepration from them. So I just tried to come out and the get on the glass and give some energy and get us on a run. I think after that our whole team did a good job of keeping it consistent and building on the lead.”
The victory improved Iowa’s record to 5-6 overall, but was hardly enough proof to say that Iowa has corrected its numerous flaws to this point.
Iowa should defeat a 2-7 Southern team under any circumstance, but especially at home and when Southern had played the day before and halfway across the country.
Iowa still hasn’t defeated a quality opponent with its five victories having come against Chicago State, Alabama State, Grambling State, Alabama-Birmingham and Southern.
But to lose on Sunday would have been a disaster from a record standpoint and from a public relations standpoint.
So in that case, it was disaster avoided.
The players now have nearly a week to take final exams and to prepare for next Saturday’s game against Drake in the Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
The 6-7 Dailey has emerged as a key part of Iowa’s rotation. He made nine points on Sunday, all of which came on 3-point baskets.
"He's gaining confidence," said Iowa coach Fray McCaffery. "He was clearly a difference in the game."
Iowa’s depth grew on Sunday with the return of freshman guard Connor McCaffery, who had missed the first 10 regular-season games because of mononucleosis. Fran McCaffery’s son made some nifty passes and scored his first points as a Hawkeye on a 3-pointer late in the game.
Connor McCaffery played 17 minutes and finished with five points, four assists and one steal.”
Sophomore forward Cordell Pemsl did not play on Sunday because of a deep laceration on his right shin, which he suffered in Thursday’s 84-78 loss at Iowa State. His status is listed as day-to-day.