– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEW YORK — In a span of eight months, the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team went from ending a disappointing season in the Big Apple to starting what looks to be a very promising campaign with impressive victories at the very same place.
Forward Tyler Cook scored 26 points and frontcourt mate Luka Garza scored 22 as the Hawkeyes cruised to a 91-72 victory over Connecticut in the championship game of the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project at Madison Square Garden on Friday evening. Garza, who had 12 points and seven rebounds in Thursday’s win, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Most of the same players that featured for the Hawkeyes were also inside the World’s Most Famous Arena last March for the Big Ten Tournament, as Iowa finished a 14-19 season with a loss in the second round of the tourney to eventual conference tournament champion and national runner-up Michigan. In two wins in a span of 48 hours, against No. 13 Oregon and the Huskies, the Hawkeyes atoned for that last visit to MSG, putting on a dominant performance in which it trailed for just 117 seconds out of 80 minutes played.
“I think we showed we learned from last year,” Garza said. “We took our pain that came with last year and used it as motivation this summer to come out here and be a better team. I think we did a good job at that on every aspect.”
Guard Jordan Bohannon, last year’s leading scorer for the Hawkeyes, picked up two quick fouls to begin the game, but that did little to slow the continuity that Iowa carried over from Thursday night. Garza dominated in the first 20 minutes by scoring 18 points, and his three-pointer at the 9:23 mark gave the Hawkeyes a 24-12 lead, an advantage that did not fall below double digits for the rest of the contest afterward.
“I think the biggest difference from a year ago is the fact that we’re more together,” Cook said. “I think we’re more connected on both ends of the floor. We’re playing for one another and our coaching staff and our program with more pride than we did a year ago.”
Coming off an emotional win against a former Big East Conference rival (Syracuse) at the home of the Big East tournament, Connecticut and its fans were not able to generate the same emotion from last night as it struggled with its shot, making just 11-of-30 from the floor as a team in the first half while missing all eight of its three-pointers.
“I have a bitter taste in my mouth today,” said Huskies coach Dan Hurley, who was ejected from the game late in the second half after picking up a second technical foul. “It was a little deflating to me. I obviously did a very poor job on the quick turnaround on preparing for a team that I think is going to win a ton of games and have a chance to be a big factor in March.”
Four players scored in double figures for the Huskies, with guard Jalen Adams leading all Huskies scorers with 20 points.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Friday evening’s games, with all photos taken by New Jersey-based photographer Arturo Holmes. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 37 pictures in total.