Iowa men get defensive in second half and roll over Northern Illinois 103-74 in final nonconference game
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With all the well-deserved hype surrounding Caitlin Clark and the fourth-ranked Iowa women’s basketball team, and with all that’s happening with the Iowa football team right now, it’s easy to overlook Fran McCaffery and the Iowa men’s basketball team.
His crew won its third game in a row, defeating Northern Illinois 103-74 on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa improved to 8-5 overall and now returns to Big Ten play with a 0-2 conference record.
It took until the second half for Iowa to blow Friday’s game open as both teams struggled on defense in the first half, which was played at a whirlwind pace.
The Huskies kept the score close in the first half largely from making 8-of-11 shots from 3-point range, including a couple from Caitlin Clark range.
Iowa led 50-42 at the break, but the Huskies shot a blistering 66.7 percent from the field in the first half.
Iowa picked up the defensive intensity in the second half, or so it seemed, and would continue to push the pace on offense.
It didn’t take long for a game that had been somewhat competitive to turn into a rout.
Iowa led 85-58 with 10 minutes, 49 seconds left to play, and by that point, the only question was how many points the Hawkeyes would score.
“I think at halftime coach (McCaffery) just kind of addressed our defensive intensity,” said graduate transfer forward Ben Krikke, who led six Iowa players in double figures with 20 points.
Northern Illinois had kept the score close for a while by making a bunch of 3-point baskets, but that strategy ultimately fizzled.
“They came out and shot in the highs 60s, I believe, and made eight threes,” Krikke said. “So, we just kind of addressed our activity on the ball, kind of off the ball. We’ve been talking a lot the last few days on being connected on the defensive end. We obviously struggled with that in the first half.
“I thought we got off to a decent start and then there was a stretch there where we struggled. And then we got it back in the second half.”
Iowa won the turnover battle 21-7 and also held the Huskies to just 29.0 percent shooting from the field in the second half.
“It was half-court defense that led to transition offense,” Fran McCaffery said of what was the key behind the second-half surge.
Iowa now has 18 conference games remaining, and maybe the best thing you could say about this team right now is that it has won the games it should have won.
Iowa’s eight wins were against North Dakota, Alabama State, Arkansas State, Seton Hall, North Florida Florida A&M, UMBC and the Huskies on Friday.
Seton Hall would probably rank as the best win, but the Pirates are far from being a power.
Iowa’s five losses have come against Creighton, Oklahoma, Purdue, Iowa State and Michigan.
And while none of them were bad losses from an opponent standpoint, four of them were by at least 10 points.
So, for now, the jury is still out on whether Iowa can defeat quality opponents.
Iowa’s next chance to defeat a quality opponent will be against Wisconsin on Tuesday in Madison, Wisconsin.
Fran McCaffery was asked after Friday’s game if he feels his team is now maybe more ready for Big Ten play.
“I think so, and I certainly hope so,” he said. “It’s been a difficult nonconference schedule. A road game in the Big East Challenge, a road game with Iowa State, Oklahoma and Seton hall in San Diego, two really tough league opponents. I feel like we’ve been challenged by this team, Northern Illinois, North Florida, Arkansas State, UMNC; those are well-coached teams with veteran guys and a lot of transfers.”
It probably is fair to say that the Hawkeyes will have to play much better on defense against the Badgers than they did in the first half of Friday’s game.
Fran McCaffery gave Northern Illinois some credit for Iowa’s defensive shortcomings in the first half, but he also had a message for his team at halftime.
“They do this all the time, a very explosive offensive team,” Fran McCaffery said of Northern Illinois, which fell to 6-6 on the season. “We did not get up into their space like we had hoped and we had prepared for. Whether it’s ball screen or not, you’ve got to be up in their space.”
Freshman forward Owen Freeman continues to play well for Iowa as he finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, including five offensive rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
Freeman already has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week four times, which is a program record, and it’s not even January yet.
“If you had been at practice in June and watched practice every day, you wouldn’t be surprised,” Fran McCaffery said of Freeman’s early success. “You could see it’s coming.