– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEW YORK — There have not been too many halves in the illustrious history of Iowa basketball that have been as anemic on the offensive end than the final 20 minutes of Thursday night. By the time this season ends, however, few wins may be as important to how successful Iowa’s campaign will be than its grind-it-out performance to advance to play for a championship tomorrow.
Guard Jordan Bohannon led all Hawkeye players with 16 points as Iowa scored 28 of its 38 second-half points from the free throw line to withstand a 4-for-21 shooting performance in those 20 minutes and defeat No. 13 Oregon 77-69 in the semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The Hawkeyes advance to play in the championship game on Friday against the Connecticut Huskies, who defeated No. 15 Syracuse in the first game of the doubleheader.
The crooked shooting by Iowa from the perimeter in the second half was in contrast to the crispness its offense showed in the first half, efficient enough at the beginning that it was able to win the game and not trail at any point in the contest. Oregon’s constant pressure from its ever-changing defensive schemes did not phase Iowa’s ball movement, as it was able to make eight three-pointers in the first half. Bohannon, Ryan Kriener and Maishe Dailey each made a three during an 11-0 run near the end of the first half to give the Hawkeyes a 39-24 lead, and Iowa took a 39-28 lead into intermission.
“I think we were just moving the ball really well,” Bohannon said. “They’re pressing, obviously, full 40 minutes. We knew we were going to get open shots. It’s just a matter of what kind of open shots we were going to get…We have to thank the bigs a lot, too, because we worked the ball inside, they kicked it out. They were big-time on the glass, getting offensive rebounds, so lots of props to them as well.
The second half saw the magic weaved on offense by the Hawkeyes completely disappear to begin the second, and that frustrated head coach Fran McCaffrey to the point where he substituted all five Iowa players on the court simultaneously only two minutes into the half. Despite the lack of baskets from the floor, Iowa’s lead never sunk below a three-possession advantage, with the Hawkeyes’ bench aggressively attacking Oregon defensively and being rewarded by getting into the bonus early in the half.
Iowa made 29 of its 33 free throws in the contest, draining 28 of 30 attempts from the charity stripe in the second half alone.
“[Our bench] really had to get us home with the 11-point lead for a reason,” Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffrey said. “We went to our bench, we had four of our five starters with two [fouls]. I could have put one or two back in — I don’t typically do that and that’s because I have confidence in that next unit. Big stage, against a ranked team and they performed extremely well.”
That big stage may have proved too bright for the young Ducks, especially in the first half when it shot just 8-for-33 (24.2 percent) from the field in falling behind by as many as 15 points. Ehab Amin led all scorers with 25 points, including five three-pointers. Freshman Bol Bol, the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots in 26 minutes.
“I didn’t know how we’d respond. We’ve got a lot of new guys and a lot of guys in new roles, so I really wasn’t sure what we would have, but I know I’m disappointed in what I saw,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “And the guys are [disappointed]. They’re in there and we just didn’t do a good job. We didn’t compete, and I know they’re disappointed in that.”