Iowa overcomes sluggish start and wins big at Maryland
Luka Garza scores 27 points and gets his first win at Xfinity Center near where he grew up
By Pat Harty
Just one-fourth of the way through the 20-game conference schedule, the Iowa men’s basketball team already has matched its win total in Big Ten road games from last season.
That’s not saying a whole lot since Iowa only finished 2-7 in Big Ten road games last season.
But Thursday’s game at Maryland in which fifth-ranked Iowa prevailed 89-67 was only the third conference road game for the Hawkeyes, so to have won two of them in less than a week is impressive, and encouraging.
Iowa defeated Rutgers 77-75 this past Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.
“It takes a certain focus to understand how good the teams are in this league, and they’re all different,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery when asked to describe the gratification of winning back-to-back Big Ten road games. “So you’re dealing with travel, but you’re dealing with a new game plan.”
Iowa fell behind early at Maryland, causing Fran McCaffery to call two timeouts in which he delivered an emotional message to his players in both timeouts. And whatever McCaffery said seems to have worked as Iowa closed the first half with a 35-7 scoring run at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Md.
“I thought we were a little casual,” Fran McCaffery said. “But we did have some good looks early that didn’t go. But I thought our defense was causal. If your shots aren’t going in, that’s fine, unless you’re taking bad shots. I thought we took good shots, they didn’t go in.”
All-America senior center Luka Garza did his usual thing with 27 points, while also winning for the first time at Maryland as a Hawkeye.
But the Washington D.C. native also had plenty of help as senior guard Jordan Bohannon made six 3-point baskets, while Iowa’s bench, led by freshman forwards Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery, made a significant contribution, especially early in the game when Fran McCaffery looked for them to provide a spark.
Murray and Patrick McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“We have guys that are able to step up,” Bohannon said. “We have a lot of guys that know their roles and are willing to sacrifice things in their game. When they come in, they do whatever they can to get the win.”
Junior guard Connor McCaffery, who is also Fran McCaffery’s son, showed his value by dishing out 10 assists. Connor McCaffery twisted in his ankle just minutes into the Rutgers game, and didn’t return until the very end to throw an inbounds pass.
But he was healthy enough to start in Thursday’s game, and he made his usual impact.
Iowa could’ve easily unraveled after Maryland bolted to an early double-digit lead.
But Fran McCaffery apparently knows what emotional buttons to push because his players needed a wake-up call on defense.
Iowa scored 20 consecutive points during one stretch in the first half and led 44-26 at halftime.
Maryland never really threatened in the second half as Iowa improved to 10-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten.
Iowa had played twice before at Maryland with Garza on the team, but lost both games, including an 82-72 setback last season.
So Thursday’s game was personal for Garza because he grew up about 10 minutes from the Xfinity Center, and because it was his last chance to win at Maryland as a Hawkeye.
To say that Garza rose to the occasion would be an understatement.
He scored 17 points in the first half and and made 9-of-14 shots from the field overall.
It was vintage Garza, workmanlike and effective.
And it finally led to a victory at Maryland.
“It means the world, it took me three tries,” Garza said of winning at Maryland. “Credit to Maryland, they’re really good at home. They’re a great team and they have a great place. I’m excited that I was able to finally get it done here and bring one home from (Maryland). I got a lot of family around here, a lot of friends, this is kind of the place that kind of raised me into the player I am, so it was definitely very exciting to be able to win here.”
Maryland made two 3-point shots barely one minute into the game and that caused Fran McCaffery to call a timeout in which he shared his displeasure with his team’s defense.
The Terrapins then built a 17-7 lead as Iowa continued to struggle on defense.
But then Iowa answered with a 20-0 scoring run and took its first lead at 21-19 on a basket by Patrick McCaffery with about nine minutes left in the first half.
Keegan Murray made a dunk that expanded the lead to 27-19 with 5:29 left in the first half, and that caused Maryland coach Mark Turgeon to call a timeout.
Patrick McCaffery then made a basket on a nifty spin move in the lane, pushing the lead to 29-20.
Maryland, after not scoring for over seven minutes, finally made a basket to trim the deficit to 29-22, but it made little difference as Iowa continued to build on its lead.
Iowa hadn’t just withstood Maryland’s early punch, it had seized control of the game and would never give it back.
Iowa had gone from performing woefully on defense in the opening minutes of Thursday’s game to suddenly playing high-quality defense.
And much of it had to do with effort.
Every Big Ten win is precious, especially road wins, and Iowa is now 2-1 in Big Ten road games and in the thick of the conference race.
Up next is revenge match against Minnesota on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa led the Gophers by seven points with 45 seconds left in regulation on Christmas Day in Minnesota, but failed to protect the lead before losing 102-95 in overtime.
It was a devastating loss, and showed that Iowa still is vulnerable on defense.
But Garza and his cohorts have since won back-to-back Big Ten road games at Rutgers and Maryland, and defense was the driving force behind Thursday’s win at Maryland.
Of course, it also helps to have multiple shooters, including one of the best 3-points shooters in Big Ten history in Bohannon.
Iowa entered the season with enormously high expectations, and if the last two games are an indication, the hype might be justified.