IOWA CITY — The good news for Iowa basketball fans: Your team has survived to play another game.
The better news: It won’t be playing any more teams from the Summit League this season.
The Hawkeyes struggled again with a team from that conference Wednesday night before Jordan Bohannon and friends finally took control to claim an 87-75 victory over a feisty South Dakota squad in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Bohannon scored 19 points and for the second straight game established a new career high in assists with 11. Peter Jok led the Hawkeyes with 20 points, Tyler Cook added 18 on 8-for-8 shooting from the field and Isaiah Moss netted 16 very important points.
Iowa (19-14) will host No. 4 seed TCU on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. The Horned Frogs advanced Wednesday with a 66-59 victory over Fresno State.
The top-seeded Hawkeyes suffered an embarrassing 98-89 loss to Summit member Omaha back in early December, a defeat that uglied up their NCAA Tournament resume, and for about 30 minutes they had almost as much trouble with eighth-seeded South Dakota, which won the league’s regular-season title.
“They were a tough team,’’ Cook said. “They just kept coming at us.’’
But the Hawkeyes also seemed to gain strength as the game went on, something Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey credited to a partisan crowd of 12,864. None of the seven NIT games played Tuesday night attracted more than 5,500 paying customers.
“I really appreciate our fans,’’ McCaffery said. “They’ve done this before. It was just a great energy level and it allowed our players to keep coming. That was an unbelievable atmosphere out there.’’
“It’s unreal to have a crowd like that tonight,’’ added Bohannon, who now has 43 points and 21 assists in the past two games. “We fed off their energy.’’
The Hawkeyes finally shook the Coyotes down the stretch, thanks to a 9-0 scoring run in which Bohannon and Ahmad Wagner scored every point. That made it 68-54 with 7 minutes, 27 seconds remaining.
Matt Mooney, who led South Dakota with 23 points, tried to keep his team in the game with a pair of 3-point field goals but the Coyotes never got within eight points after that.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump when we had a chance,’’ South Dakota coach Craig Smith said. “I think we missed five layups when we had a chance … When you’re playing a team as good as Iowa, you don’t have to play perfect but you have to be able to finish plays …
“We played super hard but just made some mistakes and they were able to take advantage of them.’’
The Coyotes (22-12) disrupted the Iowa offense with aggressive double teams for much of the first half and held a 26-25 lead with fewer than five minutes remaining in the half.
That’s when Moss decided to do his best Jok imitation, firing in three straight 3-point field goals, sandwiched around a Cook fast-break layup that came on about a 50-foot pass from Bohannon.
Smith said he thought Moss was “fantastic’’ and McCaffery didn’t disagree. He said it was especially important since Jok was in foul trouble in the first half.
“I've been trying to get Isaiah to consistently play with that level of aggressiveness,’’ McCaffery said. “When he does, we're a better team. And he does more things. I mean, defensively he makes more plays. I want to see him keep playing like that.’’
Iowa still led by only 42-38 at halftime but it never trailed after that and finally was able to gain some separation midway through the second half.
“We stayed composed in the second half,’’ Bohannon said. “We were smart about it. We knew they were going to run and jump us and I think we handled it a lot better in the second half.’’
The Hawkeyes turned the ball over 16 times, which McCaffery didn’t like, but they more than made up for it by shooting 56.5 percent from the field, their best mark in nearly three months.
McCaffery said he was proud of the fact that his players bounced back from a lopsided loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament and played with energy Wednesday.
“I quite frankly would have been very shocked if they didn't do that,’’ he said. “I mean, just knowing this group the way that I do, I felt like they would come out and play this way with tremendous fight.’’