Pierce scored 24 points and led a late 10-0 run that enabled Iowa (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today; No. 16 AP) to finally pull away from surprisingly stubborn Saint Louis
for a 67-58 victory Friday night.
Adam Haluska added 13 points and Jeff Horner had 12 for the
Hawkeyes (12-1), who had been hoping for a breezy tuneup for
Wednesday night's Big Ten opener against Michigan. Instead, they
played their worst first half of the season and had to dig
themselves out of a hole against a team that was missing two
starters from a lineup that wasn't especially potent to begin with.
"A loss tonight would have really spoiled our nonconference
season," Pierce said. "That would have really put a damper on
what we've done. Fortunately, our team pulled together and picked
it up in the second half."
For much of the game, the Billikens (2-10) outhustled Iowa on
the boards, controlled the tempo and took advantage of numerous
offensive lapses by the Hawkeyes. As a result, Saint Louis led
39-34 after two straight baskets by Justin Johnson less than 4
minutes into the second half.
A 12-2 run that included 3-pointers by Pierce and Haluska pulled
Iowa ahead to stay, but the Hawkeyes couldn't put the Billikens
away for good until the final 5½ minutes.
"That's the first team that I felt just flat outworked us for a
20-minute frame," Iowa coach Steve Alford said. "Teams have
beaten us this year, but as far as outworking us, that hasn't
happened very often.
"That was the challenge at halftime. I thought after that, it
was more like what we've been doing all year."
Iowa shot 56 percent in the second half and outrebounded the
Billikens by two after Saint Louis built a 20-10 edge on the boards
in the opening 20 minutes.
Still, with less than 6 minutes to play, Iowa led just 52-51.
Horner then hit a 3-pointer from the left corner and that seemed to
ignite the Hawkeyes. Pierce scored the next six points on two
layups and a jumper, and Haluska followed with a free throw to make
it 62-51 with 2:53 to play, enough of a cushion to hang on.
"They didn't play like a 2-9 team," Pierce said. "They played
very hard and very physical. We were able to match that in the
second half and pull away."
Izik Ohanon led Saint Louis with 15 points and Anthony Drejaj
scored 14. The Billikens, coming off a 16-point home loss to
Southeast Missouri State, played without leading scorer Reggie
Bryant (eye infection) and starting center Tom Frericks
Greg Brunner had 10 points and 11 rebounds for Iowa.
"It just hurts so bad to be 2-10. It's miserable," Saint Louis
coach Brad Soderberg said. "And yet, we got embarrassed on
Wednesday night against an in-state team and to the credit of the
players, they came back the next day with only one day to prepare
for Iowa and they had to their heads on right.
"We played well. But I also think it was hard for Steve to get
his kids up to play us, to play a team that's 2-9 right before they
start their conference season."
Pierce was the only Iowa player consistent throughout. He
finished 11-for-18 from the field and made some tough shots with
defenders in his face.
"That's just a great athlete," Soderberg said. "He's got
Kobe-esque moves sometimes. That's just a better athlete going over
a lesser athlete."
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