EVANSTON, Ill. — The Iowa basketball team does not live by Luka Garza alone.
Especially when CJ Fredrick is back in the lineup and Bakari Evelyn is playing in what clearly is his kind of town.
Fredrick and Evelyn combined to keep Iowa afloat for most of the game Tuesday night before Garza came to life in the middle of the second half and the Hawkeyes pulled away to claim a 75-62 victory over Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Garza still managed to add to his Big Ten scoring lead with 27 points, but there was a 25-minute block of time in the middle of the game in which the 6-foot-11 junior was saddled with foul trouble and did not score.
The Hawkeyes (12-5, 3-3 Big Ten) hardly missed a beat in that stretch.
“Luka, of course, is one of the best players in the country but we can’t bank on him every night to get 25 ...’’ said Evelyn, a graduate transfer who had arguably his best game in an Iowa uniform.
“There are going to be days when he might be in foul trouble, like tonight, or he might not be hitting shots, and it’s time for others to step up.’’
Evelyn was one of those who did that but an even more welcome sight was the return of Fredrick, who sat out the previous two games with a stress reaction in his left foot. There were fears that his redshirt freshman season might be over.
“Just to be back on the court again playing the game I love is a lot of fun,’’ said Fredrick, who scored 9 of his 11 points and had all of a career-high five assists before halftime. “I hate not playing especially with a group of guys like this. It was just fun being back.’’
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Fredrick was cleared to play on Sunday but didn’t do much more than shoot a little and ride an exercise bike in workouts the past few days.
The 6-3 guard said he felt good after playing 31 minutes Tuesday.
“It really doesn’t hurt that bad but tomorrow will be the key,’’ Fredrick said. “We’ll see how I feel when I wake up, once the adrenaline gets through me, but I feel good right now.’’
McCaffery and his players said Fredrick makes a huge difference when he’s on the court and not only because he is shooting about 50% from 3-point range for the season.
“He’s definitely a calming factor …’’ said Ryan Kriener, who netted 10 points Tuesday. “And it really helps to have another sniper out there on the perimeter.’’
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Fredrick started slowly, missing his first two 3-point attempts, but then he nailed three long ones in a row in a span of less than five minutes later in the first half.
He said he expected to be rusty.
“I got the first two out but that third one felt good,’’ he admitted. “The coaches and players just kept saying ‘We’re going to find you, just keep shooting.’’’
The Hawkeyes struggled on the boards early in the game and at one point were being outrebounded 15-2. That allowed the Wildcats to edge into a 28-26 lead on a 3-pointer by A.J. Turner late in the first half.
But then Fredrick and Evelyn knocked down back-to-back 3s to give the Hawkeyes the lead. Even with Garza and Connor McCaffery on the bench in foul trouble, the Hawkeyes managed to push their lead to 41-35 at the half.
Garza picked up his third foul just 22 seconds into the second half and went to the bench for nearly eight minutes, but the Hawkeyes maintained the lead without him.
When he came back in with 11 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, he was ready to do some damage.
“He obviously was fresh because he’d been out of the game for so long, which helps,’’ McCaffery said. “He was able to watch how the game went and he’s such a student of the game. We started going to him and once he got going, he got even better.’’
He scored Iowa’s next 14 points and the Hawkeyes eventually pushed their lead to as much as 18.
Evelyn finished with eight points and five rebounds and matched his career high of seven assists that he achieved two years ago while playing for Valparaiso.
He has had by far the two best games of his Iowa career in the Chicago area. He had 15 points and four assists in a victory over Cincinnati last month at the United Center, but had scored only 22 points in the other 15 games this season.
He said he is starting to feel more comfortable now as the Hawkeyes embark on the second half of the season.
“I’m practicing better,’’ he said. “The coaches and players have more confidence in me and I have more confidence in myself.’’
Northwestern (6-10. 1-5 Big Ten) was led by Miller Kopp with 15 points but the 6-7 sophomore was 0 for 6 from the field in the second half. Pete Nance added 11 points and 10 rebounds.