By Pat Harty
Syracuse has seen much better days as a men’s basketball program and a depleted Iowa squad took advantage of that in a big way on Tuesday.
Iowa broke open a close game midway through the second half and then cruised to a 68-54 victory in the Carrier Dome.
Junior center Luka Garza continued his torrid pace on offense as he led three Iowa players in double figures with 23 points.
Senior guard Jordan Bohannon overcame a sluggish first half in which he missed seven shots from 3-point range to score 17 points, while sophomore forward Joe Wieskamp scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists and earned praise from Iowa coach Fran McCaffery on the Learfield post-game radio show for his defense.
The game was part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and Iowa improved to 6-2 with the victory, while Syracuse fell to 4-4.
Iowa played Tuesday’s game without starting guard C.J. Fredrick and without reserve forward Cordell Pemsl because of injuries.
And with sophomore forward Jack Nunge already out for the season with a knee injury, and with redshirt freshman forward Patrick McCaffery dealing with health issues, Fran McCaffery’s options were limited on Tuesday.
There were times when Fran McCaffery, mostly out of necessity, used four guards with either Garza or forward Ryan Kriener playing on the frontline.
Iowa struggled to make perimeter shots against Syracuse’s vaunted two-three zone defense in the first half.
But that would change in the second half as Bohannon, who missed his first six shots in the game, found his touch from 3-point range. He made all but one of his five 3-point baskets in the second half, which saw Iowa pull away with a 23-5 scoring run.
"It took me a little while to get going," Bohannon said. "I was a little frustrated with myself. But my teammates kept me up and coach has always been really confident in me and he just said keep shooting."
Fran McCaffery figured it was only a matter of time before Bohannon would find his touch.
"You knew J-Bo wasn't going to go 1-for-8 again," Fran McCaffery said. "He makes four (threes) in the second half. That's what he does."
Wieskamp made a baseline jumper that gave Iowa a 44-36 lead with less than 16 minutes left in the second half.
After Syracuse had made two free throws, Bohannon answered with his third trey of the game that expanded Iowa’s lead to 47-38 with 13:56 left to play.
Connor McCaffery then made a bank shot in the lane and that caused Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to call a timeout with his team trailing 49-38 with 12 minutes remaining.
Wieskamp made another baseline jumper that pushed the lead to 51-38 and then Bohannon drained his fourth trey that gave Iowa a 54-38 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
There still was time for Syracuse to make a run, but it never happened.
"We just couldn't do anything with their big guy," Boeheim said of Garza, who had also had nine rebounds. "We did a pretty good job on defense,. But eventually, they're going to start making some shots and they did. They started making some shots in the second half."
Iowa is three games into a grueling seven-stretch in which all but one of the games will be away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Up next is the Big Ten opener at Michigan on Friday and the fourth-ranked Wolverines are on a roll under first-year head coach Juwan Howard.
Bohannon is expected to play against Michigan and that would be the eighth game in which he has played this season.
He is deciding after having hip surgery in late May whether to play this entire season or take a redshirt. He can appear in 10 games in the first semester without exhausting his eligibility for next season.
Iowa led 30-29 at halftime despite Bohannon having missed seven of his eight shots from 3-point range.
Garza led Iowa in scoring in the first half with 10 points, while Wieskamp scored nine points, all of which came on three 3-point baskets.
It is fair to say that this isn’t one of Boeheim’s most talented teams at Syracuse, which covers 44 seasons.
But you can only play the teams on your schedule, and for Iowa, is still counts as a nice win against a power five opponent on the road.
The fact that Iowa won with a depleted roster is even more impressive.