That was as entertaining as it was disappointing!
The Hawkeyes returned to Big Ten play in an absolute slugfest against Penn State, in a game that featured 24 lead changes and 10 ties, and inspired performances from Luka Garza, and a homecoming for Fran McCaffery in arguably the most historic arena in college basketball. Even Fran's cufflinks were ready for the occasion.
However, the Hawkeyes were unable to produce late in the game, and the Nittany Lions pulled away to secure a 89-86 victory over Iowa at the Palestra.
Despite a disappointing finish, Luka Garza had another All-American kind of game. He led the team with 34 points (shooting 13-19 from the field), 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He accounted for 12 of the team’s last 17 points at the end of the first half, which propelled Iowa to a 9-2 run going into halftime. As we’ve come to expect this season, his post moves were fluid, calculated, and difficult to defend, which undoubtedly contributed to PSU’s Mike Watkins fouling out late in the game. However, his 7 missed free throws (including 3 crucial one’s in the last 3 minutes), and his 1 point in the last 6 minutes of the game stymied any hope Iowa had to pull away at the end.
Joe Wieskamp finished with an impressive 23 points in the game, shooting 5-10 from 3-point range and getting 10 rebounds. Joe Toussaint joined in on the fun with 18 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals, while going 4-4 at the free-throw line. Ryan Kriener accounted for all of Iowa’s 8 points off the bench, which included 2 consecutive threes in the first half, and 3 blocks for the entire game. CJ Frederick was benched for the second half of the game due to an ankle injury, which gave Iowa's bench an unwanted hit. Altogether, Iowa bested Penn State in field goal percentage (47.7% to 45.8%), 3PT percentage (42.3% to 28.6%), rebounds, and assists.
And Iowa still lost. Ouch.
Penn State’s bench proved to be the difference maker in this game, especially considering the lack of productivity from Mike Watkins. Although Watkins was held scoreless for 35 minutes of the game, the PSU bench amassed 46 of the team’s 89 points. Izaiah Brockington led the team with 23 points, while Curtis Jones matched (starter) Lamar Stevens’ 16 points. Combine this with the team’s 11 steals, and Watkins’ 3 blocks, and Iowa’s 15 turnovers, and a raucous Penn State crowd at a very hot Palestra, and you get the upper hand over an insufficient Iowa performance.
Despite the disappointing result, this was one of the most entertaining college basketball games of the year. As we saw in the Iowa State and Cincinnati games, Iowa was able to respond well to Penn State’s momentum, and both Garza and Wieskamp came up with clutch shots to reclaim leads before the game’s climax. The crowd was electric from start to finish, and there were definitely some old school gym vibes throughout the game…and by old school, I mean poor air conditioning and sweaty floors throughout the game. BTN’s Dave Revsine said it reached 80 degrees in the gym (with 90% humidity in Philly), which explains the abundance of sweaty Penn State fans, and the drum blower fans set up along the court.
This loss puts Iowa at 1-3 against currently ranked opponents, with losses to Michigan, San Diego State, and PSU, and 10-4 for the year. The Hawks will have a chance to beat a ranked Maryland team at home on the 10th, but not before the chance to avenge last season’s frustrating loss against Nebraska in Lincoln on the 7th.
Dave Revsine called today's game a "war of attrition," and Penn State had the dudes to remain standing at the end. Can Iowa and its lack of depth can fend off similar outcomes? We'll find out in the next two games.