By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Those wondering how the third-ranked Iowa men’s basketball team would respond without Luka Garza being dominant on offense got their answer against North Carolina on Tuesday, and with it came a statement win.
Garza struggled against North Carolina’s length and athleticism for much of the game, but the Hawkeyes still found a way to prevail 93-80 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Iowa never has been accused of being a solo act, but it’s easy to assume that Garza will perform like Superman in every game, but that just wasn’t the case against the 16th-ranked Tar Heels.
So with its star center struggling, Iowa took what the North Carolina defense was giving, and that was open looks from 3-point range.
The Hawkeyes made 17-of-40 3-point shots, including 11 in the first half, and also withstood a furious North Carolina comeback in the second half to improve to 4-0 on the season.
Senior guard Jordan Bohannon, after doing very little on offense in the first three games, showed why he is poised to become the Big Ten’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets by making seven of them in Tuesday’s game and finishing with a game-high 24 points and a team-high six assists.
“He’s been shooting it that way every day,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Bohannon, who is now finally healthy after having had surgery on both hips over the past two years. “He had a couple off games. He didn’t play the last 10-12 minutes of those games because we were ahead
“I’m not trying to poo-poo it, but if he gets open shots, he’s going to make them, I don’t care who we play. It’s just who he is.”
Sophomore guard C.J Fredrick and junior guard Joe Wieskamp also contributed to the 3-point barrage with five apiece, and finished with 21 and 19 points, respectively.
Sophomore point guard Joe Toussiant also came off the bench and provided a spark with his quickness, and with ability to get to the basket, while freshman forward Keegan Murray made a huge 3-point play in the second half when the Tar Heels were trying to mount a comeback.
As for the 6-foot-11 Garza, he still finished with a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds, and four blocks, but he only made 6-of-20 field-goal attempts and never seemed to adjust to North Carolina’s length. Garza was Iowa’s fourth leading scorer in Tuesday’s game, and the last time he was Iowa’s fourth leading scorer in a game was against San Diego State early last season.
“We have some of the best shooters in the country; Joe Wieskamp, C.J. Fredrick, Jordan Bohannon,” Garza said. “Those guys are going to kill you and they did tonight. I’m just proud of them, and I’m thankful for them to pick me up when I wasn’t having a great offensive night.”
The good news for Garza is that few teams can match North Carolina’s length on the frontline, and the other good news is that Iowa showed that it can defeat a quality opponent without Garza scoring a bunch of points.
This game sent a message and Iowa State is next on Iowa’s schedule this Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and the Cyclones have to realize that it’ll take more than containing Garza to defeat this veteran Iowa team.
Iowa cruised to easy wins in its first three games as Garza was virtually unstoppable on offense. He scored at least 30 points in the first half of two of the games and entered Tuesday’s contest averaging 34.0 points per game, and 27.3 points in the first half alone.
The Tar Heels have one of the deepest and most talented frontlines in college basketball, with six players on the roster 6-foot-10 or taller, and Roy Williams threw everything at Garza from a defensive standpoint.
Iowa led 43-31 at halftime despite Garza having only scored six points.
Iowa used the 3-point shot to control most of the first half, making 11-of-22 attempts from behind the arc.
Fredrick and Wieskamp both made four 3-point baskets in the first half and scored 16 and 12 points, respectively, in the first half.
Fredrick’s fourth trey in the first half came right before the buzzer and pushed the lead back to double digits.
Roy Williams is in his 19th season at North Carolina and 33rd season overall as a collegiate head coach. He has led North Carolina to NCAA championships in 2005, 2009, and 2017, nine ACC regular season championships and three ACC Tournament titles.
Williams also has the fourth most wins by a Division I coach behind Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight.
Williams had high praise for Iowa heading into Tuesday’s game, saying it would be one of the toughest road games they would face, and he was right.
The Tar Heels succeeded in slowing down Garza, but they had no answer for Garza’s veteran supporting cast, especially from 3-point range.
Garza did have some success on offense in the second half, scoring 10 points, but nothing came easy for last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year.
“They were really big and getting into me and making it hard for me when I caught the ball,” Garza said. “Every time I got into the middle there was a lot of hand, so I was trying to get it out of there, move around and get some open shots for our shooters as much as I could.
“I had that stretch where I was just trying to get to the glass and get second opportunities for our team. That’s just how I play. If I’m not getting it going offensively myself, I’m going to try to get rebounds and put backs and try to get myself going.”
Iowa had a 23-9 advantage in points off turnovers, a 21-14 advantage in second-chance points, and had 22 assists and just 11 turnovers, while North Carolina had 18 turnovers.
It seemed as if somebody was always open for Iowa in Tuesday’s game and Bohannon and his cohorts made the Tar Heels pay for it, although, Bohannon despite making 7-of-16 treys, wasn’t very impressed with his shooting performance.
“I didn’t really think I shot the ball well, I just hit some pretty big shots,” Bohannon said. “I think I still had an off day shooting, to be honest with you.”