IOWA CITY – The game was all but over except on the scoreboard. The video board celebrations had begun, displaying fans dancing to “Call Me Maybe.” The Carver-Hawkeye Arena cameras didn’t make their way to the Iowa bench, though. If it had, it would have caught Morgan Johnson bumping her shoulders to the hit song.
She had reason to be in a good mood. The senior couldn’t be stopped Sunday afternoon. The best defense Illinois State had against the 6-5 center was to foul and even that backfired.
Johnson made a career high 12 free throws as the Hawkeyes finished one free throw shy of tying a new school record in its 74-64 win. I
“It was a pretty physical game. We knew coming in they were pretty physical. Just had to work on holding our ground and then working on some more cross screens and working on different ways to get open,” Johnson said. “…I think when you go in there you’re just expecting to get fouled, you still try to go and make some shots. But definitely when a team is as aggressive as they are you take that and you use that to your advantage.”
The free throw barrage helped place the Hawkeyes in the preseason WNIT semifinals. Iowa hosts Middle Tennessee State Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The performance against the Redbirds reversed trends set in the preseason WNIT opener. Iowa shot 64.7 percent from the line making 11 free throws. Sunday, Johnson made 12 by herself, which was also one more point than she totaled in the home opener.
Johnson finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, including 12 points in the paint.
“I feel like my name is out there a little bit more, and people are more like, okay, she’s not a huge post so we’re going to push her off the block,” Johnson said. “So I feel like just trying to maintain that position is going to be really important and just welcoming that and going into them and drawing those fouls will be really important.”
The senior actually missed her first three throw then made 12 straight to close out the game. The team followed her lead.
At the end of the first half, Iowa made four less field goals than Illinois State but still enjoyed a 10 point cushion. It was possible due to 23 made free throws on 26 attempts, which was more glaring than the advantage on the scoreboard.
“Well, we’re going to try to do it whatever way we can. We’re not sold that we have to be a team that gets it inside or we have to hit the 3s,” Bluder said. “We had free throws tonight, and we got to the free‑throw line and we converted that. So we don’t care how we get the points. That’s the most important thing is that we get them.”
The Hawkeyes got 32 points from the line. One place they weren’t scoring was the post. Despite Johnson’s dominance in the post, the Redbirds outscored Iowa in the paint, 24-22. Johnson accounted for six of Iowa’s eight points in the paint in the first half, and 12 over its 22 overall.
“We don’t want to be one‑dimensional; we’re a team that really tries to have more balance scoring,” Bluder said “And today we didn’t have that balance scoring; we only had two people in double figures.”
Theairra Taylor joined Johnson in double figures with 10. She also had a career high 11 rebounds and five assists as well as her first career double-double.
The Hawkeyes almost had a career high of their own, needing one free throw in the final 4:48 to tie the school record. They went 0 for 4 down the stretch.
Still they weren’t needed. Even with the misses, Iowa held a 20 point advantage from the charity stripe in makes and attempts. It lead to a dominant victory, despite the 10-point final margin. With 3:57 remaining the Hawkeyes widened its lead to 20 with its second unit on the court, and the first unit watching – and sometimes dancing after a near perfect night at the line.
“Every single year on my postseason little sheets we have printed out, I shoot about 73 or 72 percent, and that is two or three below our team, what our goal is,” Johnson said. “So to be able to shoot better than that tonight was really exciting for me.”