The Hawks and Ospreys staged a birds of prey battle for
aerial basketball supremacy in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday night, with the Hawkeyes pulling away in the second half for an 83-68 win. The avian theme for the game even carried over to the player of the game: the Peacock himself, Luka Garza. Garza led all players in scoring (29) and rebounding (12) and was absolutely dominant after a slow start. Garza missed his first five shots... and then made 12 of his next 13 shots, including a pair of 3-point attempts. Much like the Oral Roberts game, Garza had a pronounced size edge against the smaller Ospreys, but he was again able to take full advantage of that edge and dominate the Ospreys' smaller post players and get whatever he wanted around the basket. Garza has been off to a phenomenal start this season and it's been great to see.
Iowa got off to a ragged start, on offense and defense, and fell down 12-6 to North Florida early on. Thankfully, things got better after that, as Iowa started making shots. North Florida kept it close throughout the first half and trailed 39-35 at halftime. Iowa opened the second half with a 17-4 run that effectively put the game out of reach. Iowa's lead got as high as 20 after that and never dipped below 10 points the rest of the game and ultimately got a solid, stress-free 15-point win. That'll do after what we've seen from Iowa in the first few weeks of the season.
In addition to Garza, Iowa also got strong performances from Jack Nunge (his second straight) and Joe Wieskamp. Wieskamp rebounded from a lackluster game against Oral Roberts with one of his best all-around games of the season: 14 points on 6/12 shooting (1/3 from deep), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. Nunge finished with 11 points (5/11 shooting), 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Iowa also got a big spark off the bench from Joe Toussaint, who had 10 points on 3/5 shooting, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds in 19 minutes of action. His quickness was a clear difference-maker for Iowa, especially in transition. Connor McCaffery finished with no points (0/2 shooting), but he had 7 assists against just one turnover.
Speaking of turnovers, Iowa gave the ball away just six times in this game. They forced 11 North Florida giveaways, including seven in the second half that they turned into 14 easy points. That was a big part of how Iowa was able to blow the game wide open. That -- and second chance points. Iowa absolutely clobbered the Ospreys on the glass, with a 48-35 overall edge and a stunning 20-9 edge in offensive rebounds. Iowa turned all those extra chances into 24 second chance points (UNF had just 8 second chance points). Getting all of those extra opportunities was key because overall Iowa didn't shoot the ball very well -- at any level. Iowa made just 44.4% of their field goals, including a grim 27.3% (6/22) from 3-point range. They weren't even that good at the free throw stripe, just 13/20 (65%). Offense has always been Iowa's calling card under Fran and that's not likely to change this year, but it was nice to see that Iowa can win comfortably even when their offense has a rough night shooting.
Of course, Iowa was also able to survive a so-so night shooting the ball because their defense did a better-than-usual job on the defensive end. North Florida shot a ghastly 39.3% from the field -- and just 38% from 2-point range. They made 41% of their 3s (right around their season average), but 12 3s weren't enough to keep them in range of Iowa when they only made 12 other field goals, period. Iowa fought through screens well in this game and did a solid job of contesting looks around the basket and not giving UNF easy buckets (at least, not after a shaky start when they gave up a few layups). Iowa won't always have a size advantage like they had in this game, but there was still more consistent defensive effort -- and a more coherent understanding of how to play team defense -- on display here than we saw in some of Iowa's earlier games.
The tough games are coming for Iowa soon enough -- #12 Texas Tech is looming a week away in Las Vegas. For now Iowa needs to bank wins against teams they should beat and show improvement. Job done on both fronts in this game.
NEXT: Iowa welcomes Cal Poly to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday afternoon at 4 PM CT (BTN).