The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa men’s basketball demolishes Alabama State, 98-67, to the tune of 27 assists

The Hawkeyes followed a back-and-forth, physical first half with 49 points and zero turnovers in the final 20 minutes.
Carly Schrum
Iowa Forward Patrick McCaffery goes up for a shot during a game between Alabama State and Iowa. on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hornets 98-67. McCaffery scored 22 points.

The Iowa men’s basketball team won its second straight to open the season, crushing Alabama State, 98-67, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday. Fueled once again by a transition offense, Iowa relied on a team effort, assisting on 27 of its 33 made baskets. 

The Hawkeyes finished with just six turnovers, all confined in the opening 20 minutes, which was “a little too many” for Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery.

“Both teams played fast and both teams were aggressive, so it wasn’t a horrible number,” McCaffery said of the turnovers in his postgame press conference. “But no turnovers in the second half and 23 assists on 33 field goals, that’s who we are.”

The Hawkeyes got off to a 7-0 run to start the game, led by forward Patrick McCaffery’s six points on 2-of-2 shooting from the field. He and teammate Dasonte Bowen had a give-and-go on the fast break for a Patrick McCaffery layup before the 6-foot-9 senior drew contact on the right block for an and-one.

Hitting a corner three, the forward’s scoring led Iowa in the opening eight minutes as the Hawkeyes recovered from a 1-for-10 stretch from the field with a 6-0 run to take an 18-10 lead over the Hornets. 

Patrick McCaffery would finish the contest with 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting to lead the Hawkeyes in scoring.

“That’s kind of my mentality … If I see some sort of event when I can drop the ball, or if I have space to shoot the ball, I’m really confident in the work I’m putting into my ability, ” Patrick McCaffery said. “So I always try to be aggressive on shots, and, you know, they went in, so that’s helpful.”

After Alabama State cut the lead to three with 10 minutes to go in the half, Iowa went to its second unit after gradually subbing in first-years Ladji Dembele, Owen Freeman, Brock Harding, and Pryce Sandfort to pair with second-year guard Josh Dix. Yet this lineup didn’t last long, letting up a three-pointer before senior forward Ben Krikke subbed in for Freeman. 

When Alabama State guard C.J. Hines hit an and-one lefty layup off a Dembele turnover to tie the game at 24 apiece, Pryce Sandfort was taken out in favor of his older brother Payton. This group seemed to do the trick, as the Hawkeyes went on another 6-0 run, this time commanded by Harding. 

Hailing from Moline, Illinois, Harding nailed a floater in the lane and notched two assists. Krikke then took a Harding pass into the post, connecting on a reverse layup; the ball not even hitting the backboard before falling through the net. 

Calling himself a “hard-nosed” point guard, Harding wasn’t taking any personal credit in his postgame media availability.”

“We have a lot of guys around you who can score the ball, so it makes it that much easier because when guys cut, they know they’re going to get the ball,” he said. “We got shooters all around so that makes my job a lot easier as a point guard. So, super fun playing with this group of guys.”

Yet similar to the rest of the half, Iowa’s hot streak became lukewarm, as Iowa failed to even get up a shot for a 2:46 period as Alabama State again cut the contest to a one-basket affair. With two minutes left in the half, Payton Sandfort hit the Hawkeyes’ second shot of the evening from beyond the arc. He then answered with a block on the other end, before splashing a corner-three while drawing a foul. 

In less than two minutes, Sandfort scored 12 points.

According to Fran McCaffery, the head coach meant to get Payton Sandfort involved sooner in the contest but claimed Krikke was acting as the focal point of the offense at that point in time. But for the coach, Payton Sandfort’s two made free throws were all the evidence the forward needed of his shot-making abilities.

“When he’s open, it’s going in,” Fran McCaffery said of Payton Sandfort. “He’s supremely confident in his shooting abilities, obviously very gifted in that area, but he moves really well without the ball.”

Also a factor in the rebounding department, Sandfort earned his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 boards while also connecting on 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Fran McCaffery said that both Payton Sandfort and Patrick McCaffery have developed a mindset of “getting on the glass.”

Then, to the roar of the Black and Gold faithful, Payton Sandfort hit his third triple, this time along the right wing, to cap his run. Senior guard Tony Perkins’ two made free throws added some insurance as the Hawkeyes took a 12-point lead into the break. 

Perkins and Payton Sandfort combined for two cross-court assists to open the second half before Alabama State switched to a 2-3 zone defense. Krikke broke through the line for a layup, and the Hawkeyes cracked the Hornets’ defense with fast break layups.

Krikke got into foul trouble, registering his third whistle before being taken out in favor of Freeman. Yet the first-year’s run lasted less than two minutes, as the six-foot-10 forward missed wide left on a three-pointer before he was pulled in favor of Dembele. 

Freeman was talked to by multiple assistant coaches as well as Fran McCaffery on the bench and later returned to the game with 9:54 remaining. 

“I put him in a key part of the game where the game is in the balance, and he’s not even in the game 10 seconds and he jacks up a three,” the head coach said of Freeman. “I don’t ever want him to not feel confident shooting threes … but not in that situation … Get some touches, get a sweat going, and block a shot.”

The Hawkeyes pushed their lead to 20 with back-to-back threes from Payton Sandfort and Patrick McCaffery. 

Freeman returned to form later on in the half, swatting a shot into the row of cameras behind the basket and getting to the foul line multiple times on aggressive post-play. He would finish the game with eight points and three boards, going 6-of-9 from the charity stripe. 

“It was good to see him really affect the game when he went back in there because we need him,” Fran McCaffery said.

In a game with 29 fouls charged against Alabama State, Patrick McCaffery said the Hornets’ physical style of play and their preference to fill gaps and swipe for steals prevented the Hawkeyes from putting the ball in the basket early on. Yet with the help of the bonus, which Iowa earned with about 11 minutes left in the game, the Hawkeyes took control.

The contest became a laugher with four minutes to go as Harding hit Freeman, his high school teammate, on a lob for a two-handed jam to put the Hawkeyes up by 28. Harding, who finished the game with seven assists, connected on the following possession with Dembele, assisting on a no-look bounce pass for another dunk. 

Up next for the Hawkeyes is a road trip to Omaha, Nebraska, to take on the No. 8 Creighton Bluejays, who are coming off a 105-54 victory over Florida A&M on Nov. 7 before taking on North Dakota State on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes will take on the Bluejays at 9 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Nov. 14. According to Patrick McCaffery, the game will feature Harding and his three first-year teammates’ most difficult opponent in their respective careers. His advice: just play it cool.

“Just play basketball,” he said. “[The first-years] have played hundreds, maybe thousands of basketball games in their life. It’s just another game … We respect everybody, fear no one, and expect to come in and really push the envelope. It’s a great opportunity to compete.”

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Carly Schrum
Carly Schrum, Photojournalist
Carly is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and potentially majoring in sustainability. She works at the Daily Iowan as a photojournalist.