The Purdue monkey is finally off Iowa's back. The Hawkeyes bounced back from Saturday's high-octane loss to Gonzaga with their league opener against Purdue, a team that has had their number in recent years. Not any more. Iowa ended a four-game losing streak against the Boilermakers, earning their first win over Purdue since 2017 -- when Jordan Bohannon was a true freshman -- with a controlled 70-55 victory on Tuesday night. Perhaps more important than the win itself (or maybe just as important, since the win's the thing that matters) was how Iowa won the game: with --
-- solid defense and good rebounding?
Iowa's shots just weren't falling for most of the night, which seemed to be partly a result of Purdue's defense (in the second half they did an especially good job of muscling Garza out of position and quickly smothering him with double-teams when he did get the ball) and partly an issue of some good looks just not falling. But while that might have spelled disaster for past Iowa teams, this Iowa team wasn't phased by a few (or several) missed buckets and their lead rarely wavered. In fact, Iowa led the game for over 34 of 40 total minutes and it was a multi-possession lead for most of that time. Purdue made a few runs in the second half, but every time they threatened, Iowa had a counter-punch and was able to make a few buckets themselves or get a few defensive stops.
Overall, Iowa held Purdue to just 0.85 points per possession, which is very much a winning number for Iowa. It's far and away their best defensive performance of the season against a Power 5 opponent (UNC scored 1.01 PPP, ISU scored 1.07, and Gonzaga scored 1.16). Iowa contested shots and (mostly) denied easy looks. And they also kept Purdue off the offensive glass, which was hugely important. The Boilermakers rebounded just 24% of their misses in this game; they came into this game hauling in 34% of their misses and offensive rebounds were a key factor in both of Purdue's wins over Iowa last year -- they grabbed 40% of their misses in their blowout win over Iowa in West Lafayette and an even more stunning 48% of their misses in their win in Iowa City. Joe Wieskamp (6) and Luka Garza (7) were particularly dominant for Iowa on the defensive glass.
Garza and Wieskamp were also Iowa's two most effective offensive players, too. Garza led all scorers with 22 points -- his 17th straight Big Ten game with at least 20 points and also moved up to third on Iowa's all-time scoring list (ahead of Greg Stokes and Acie Earl). Purdue's defense gave him some problems -- Trevion Williams is very big and very athletic in the low post and Zach Edey is so massive he even manages to dwarf Garza -- but he still finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. Not bad for an "off" night for our beloved Garzilla. He was was 7/14 from the floor and 4/8 from beyond the arc, including a three late in the game that all but iced the win for Iowa. And this stat showcased just how preposterously good Garza has been this season:
is that good? it seems good pic.twitter.com/tSSE0NWEsr— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) December 23, 2020
Wieskamp also had a strong game, finishing with 17 points on 6/13 shooting to go with nine rebounds, two blocks, an assist, and a steal. His own shot wasn't falling early (2/6 in the first half) but he stayed aggressive and he was rewarded with some great looks in the second half as well as some trips to the free throw line. And, as noted, his activity as a rebounder was critical for Iowa's win. This was Wieskamp's seventh straight game in double figures and he's had 17 or more in four of his last five outings. Coming into the season we said consistency was the main thing we needed to see from Wieskamp this season and while it's still early, we're definitely seeing him be a more consistent presence -- as a scorer, as a rebounder, and as a defender -- and it's great to see.
No other Hawkeyes finished in double figures. Jordan Bohannon had nine points on 3/8 shooting from deep; some of his shots were still painfully off, but a few more looked like what we've come to expect from Bohannon over the last four years. Hopefully he'll soon be on the other side of this shooting slump. His fellow starting guard, CJ Fredrick, didn't contribute much in the way of scoring (just six points on 2/6 shooting), but he had five assists and finished with a +25 in plus/minus, far and away the best of any Iowa player in this game. Good things were definitely happening when Fredrick was on the court.
It was an odd game for Connor McCaffery. He had a game-high six assists and dished some stunning dimes (especially to Wieskamp)... but he also had four turnovers and was unusually sloppy with the ball at times. His shortcomings as a shooter were also on display, as he finished with two points on 1/5 shooting, 0/4 from long range. The shots he was getting were very open -- by Purdue's design. They were only too happy to give him wide-open looks from deep and trust that he wouldn't be able to hurt them with those shots. Connor does a lot of things well for Iowa, but more Big Ten teams are going to mimic Purdue's approach to defending him and Iowa's going to have to find some solutions to that problem.
Perhaps one of those answers will be giving more run to Joe Toussaint, who once again seemed to make an outsize impact in limited minutes. Toussaint had no points and finished just +3 in plus/minus, but he had four assists and seemed to provide a very welcome (and very needed) jolt of energy for Iowa when he came off the bench in both the first and second halves. Which is something he's consistently done this season; it feels like it's time to find him a few more minutes a game. And speaking of jolts of energy off the bench... Keegan Murray! In 12 minutes of action, he had a pair of dunks, a three-pointer, three rebounds, a steal, and a handful of hustle plays. He just makes shit happen when he's on the floor and it's beautiful to watch. He seems to be developing a very nice connection with Toussaint as well:
Jack Nunge and Patrick McCaffery were the only other Iowa players to see action tonight. Nunge's outside shot wasn't falling (0/4), but he did grab five rebounds, dish out two assists, and block a shot in his 15 minutes on the floor. McCaffery had three points and a rebound in his 12 minutes, though he also provided some defensive length when Iowa extended its press to fluster Purdue at times.
Good teams still find ways to win games even when things aren't clicking for them. Really good teams find ways to win games easily even when things aren't clicking for them. Iowa just beat Purdue by 15 in a game where the Boilermakers rarely threatened in the second half, despite the fact that Iowa had an off night (43% from the floor) in the thing they're best at. I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that.
NEXT: Iowa heads to The Barn to take on Minnesota (7-1, 0-1 B1G) on Christmas night (Friday) at 7 PM. BTN will televise the game.