Thoughts, Observations, Notes: Hawkeyes Rally Against Pitt

November 27, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa basketball team pretty much cruised to a 5-0 start without being challenged. The Hawkeyes knew that couldn’t last forever.

Tuesday night, they found out they were up to the task when appearing in a close game. A quick and physical Pitt team outplayed them in the first half, but they ground out a 69-68 victory in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

The Panthers (6-1) drove around and through the Iowa defense before halftime. They shot 61.3 percent from the floor, including 45.5 percent on threes in building a 46-40 lead. They shot just 29.2 percent on second-half field goals as the home team locked down on defense.

It’s the type of gutty performance that can pay dividends for the Hawkeyes down the road. That could happen as early as Friday when they play host to No. 22 Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener. The Badgers like it ugly.

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“We battled on the glass. We got to the floor, and we really fought. When you win a game like this, it’s a great feeling in the locker room because it certainly was not a thing of beauty by any means, but that’s how games are sometimes,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

Iowa probably wouldn’t have pulled out this game last season when it finished 14-19 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten. It wasn’t capable of locking down defensively and holding a team to 22 second-half points.

“It’s good for us, especially for me just having that experience of a close game, coming back from a deficit, having that experience and kind of brining us closer together,” said freshman Joe Wieskamp, who led Iowa with 18 points.

“We know we’re going to have a lot of close games moving forward throughout the season. We’ll learn from this.”

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Wieskamp helped keep his team in the game by scoring 11 in the first half. Junior point guard Jordan Bohannon also scored 11 before the intermission.

“That was a fun one. We had to grind in the second half. We had nothing going on offense. We were grinding on defense. That showed a lot of our grit,” Bohannon said.

The Hawkeyes scored the first seven points of the second half to go ahead 47-46 just two minutes in. The game remained nip and tuck the rest of the way in a contest that saw 14 lead changes and nine ties.

“It was a very critical part and I think it had a lot to do with our confidence moving forward for the rest of the half,” McCaffery said of how his team came out of the halftime locker room.

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Former Big Ten sixth man of the year, Nicholas Baer, looked like his old self after the intermission. With Pitt determined to take away dangerous Hawkeye post players, Tyler Cook and Luka Garza, Baer found himself open from the outside.

Baer scored 11 points in a row during one stretch, including a three-point barrage that saw him sink 3 of 5 from deep. He finished with a season-high 16 points.

“I wasn’t shooting the percentage I wanted to. It was nice being able to get out there tonight and knock down a few shots. You see a few go through then you continue to shoot with confidence,” Baer said.

Even with Baer’s heroics, Pitt didn’t go away. After Cook missed two free throws with 10 second left, the visitors took possession with a chance to win. They missed a pair of attempts against a collapsing Hawkeye defense that shut down the lane.

Panther freshman Xavier Johnson got loose in the first half for 12 points, much of his success coming through penetration. McCaffery switched Bohannon off of him, and put Maishe Dailey and Connor McCaffery on the Pitt point guard.

“We thought that that could be a good matchup for us. Same with Connor because they are both bigger than him but Maishe slides his feet extremely well, and he’s 6-7 and long. That’s a guy that you can put on a point guard when he can move like that,” Fran McCaffery said.

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