A nine-point win over Gardner-Webb is hardly something to be proud of, but the way Iowa took down the Runnin’ Bulldogs sure is cause for celebration in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes trailed 38-18 at halftime and were down by as many as 23 points at one point in the first half, before storming back to outscore Gardner-Webb 47-18 in the second half to escape with a 65-56 win on Saturday. Last year, this is a game Iowa surely would have lost. The Hawkeyes had a brutal non-conference season, which included a 16-point loss to Campbell. Iowa struggled with its defense last year, which hurt its resume and kept it off the NCAA Tournament bubble, but the Hawkeyes figure to be an NCAA Tournament contender this year, so this was the kind of game they couldn’t lose. They knew that, and they didn’t.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of Iowa’s win was how the Hawkeyes came back. We always knew they could score, but the question was whether they could stop anyone after last year’s abysmal defensive display. We got our answer over the weekend, as defense and the subsequent transition offense led Iowa’s comeback. “I think we buy into the defensive end a little bit more,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “When you give up 18 points in the second half, that’s the difference. Last year we would have just tried to put 60 on them in the second half.”