#11 Iowa 74, Penn State 68: One For The Grind

By RossWB on February 21, 2021 at 7:01 pm
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

On paper this looked like an easy win for #11 Iowa. The Hawkeyes were coming off back-to-back double-digit road wins, trouncing Michigan State and Wisconsin and exorcising the demons of several years of futility at the Breslin Center and the Kohl Center. This was a home game against the 12th-place team in the Big Ten and Iowa was favored by 10.5. Easy peasy, right? Well... 

The game started in a way that suggested it might be another rout for Iowa; they jumped out to a quick 13-4 lead behind a hot start from C.J. Fredrick (3/3 for 8 points, including a pair of three-pointers) and extended that to 19-6 a few minutes later. But then Iowa shots stopped falling and Penn State's started hitting nothing but net and Iowa's lead evaporated under a 12-2 PSU run that took just over two minutes of game time. The rest of the half turned into a tight, back-and-forth contest, before the Nittany Lions ended the half on an 11-3 run to take a 41-36 halftime lead. Iowa's offense looked out of sync after their hot start and the defense was getting pulled out of position by PSU's quickness and bevy of shooters. Adjustments were needed. 

The second half started in much the same way the first half ended, though, with bot hteams locked in a back-and-forth struggle. Iowa was carried offensively by Joe Wieskamp in those early minutes; Wieskamp responded to being held scoreless in the first half by scoring Iowa's first nine points in the second half, converting a trio of lay-ups and nailing a three-pointer. Iowa kept chipping away at Penn State's lead before Keegan Murray hit a 3 to give Iowa their first lead of the second half at 51-49. Penn State never led again, though they did tie the game twice shortly after that. 

But when the score hit 54-54 after a made 3 by PSU's Myreon Jones, the scoring just... stopped. For both teams. Neither team scored again for almost four minutes (from 12:17 of the second half to the 8:18 mark), when the deadlock was broken by Luka Garza with a layup that made him the all-time leading scorer for Iowa men's basketball, moving ahead of Roy Marble. During that four-minute scoring drought, Iowa went just 0/1 from the floor, but they also went 0/3 from the free throw line and had three turnovers. Penn State, meanwhile, went 0/8 from the floor during that stretch. But while Iowa's offense slowly, grindingly got a foothold in the game after Garza's layup -- that keyed a 6-0 run that eventually became a 13-2 run -- Penn State remained unable to find a basket. They ended up missing three straight shots and went almost eight minutes of game time without a field goal. 

And yet despite all that, they only trailed by six (67-61) when their lengthy field goal drought ended. A dazzling three-pointer by CJ Fredrick pushed Iowa's lead back to nine (70-61) with four minutes to play, when Iowa just decided to... stop scoring.

Well, they didn't actually "decide" to do that... but they did stop scoring, staying firm at 70 points from the 4:05 mark of the game until a Joe Wieskamp made free throw with 30 seconds to play. Penn State's defense deserves some credit during that stretch, to be sure, but Iowa's offense also looked like a shadow of itself, too, with little of the ball movement or off-ball action that are key reasons why Iowa leads the nation in offensive efficiency. It didn't matter here because Penn State ended the game hitting just two of their final 21 shots, which is abysmal. But against an opponent that could actually shoot straight over the final ten minutes of the game, Iowa might have been in deep, deep trouble today. 

Maybe Iowa was due a sluggish performance. This game came on the heels of showings against Michigan State and Wisconsin that were pretty dazzling. And it came before a pair of massive games against #3 Michigan and #4 Ohio State later this week. As Pat noted in his preview, this game screamed trap. And, to their credit, Iowa managed to avoid that trap and get the win, which is all that matters, especially in a conference as brutally competitive as the Big ten. But, woof, this was not a game that we'll want to remember for any other reason than the fact that it's when Luka Garza set the all-time scoring record. 

Iowa finished the game shooting 45% from the floor (just 16/33 or 48% on 2-point tries, though), 40% from 3-point range (10/25), and 55% (12/22) from the free throw line. They also had 16 turnovers. The turnovers and missed free throws were pretty indicative of how sloppy this performance was for Iowa. They just could not find a rhythm for most of the afternoon. 

The headline for the game will be Garza's record-setting performance; he finished with a game-high 23 points on 8/16 shooting and chipped in 11 rebounds, two assists, and a block as well. It was far from his sharpest effort; he seemed to be pressing at points in the game, especially before he finally broke Marble's scoring record. But he was key in helping Iowa's offense get un-stuck (such as it was) in the second half and kickstarting what ended up being the game-winning surge. The Peacock did his part today to help ensure Iowa came away with a victory. 

But Iowa probably doesn't win today without a sensational performance from C.J. Fredrick, who finished with 18 points on 7/10 shooting (4/7 from deep), two assists, and a steal. His red-hot start fueled Iowa in the early going when no one else was hitting and he made key buckets in the second half, too. Fredrick hasn't contributed a lot of scoring in recent weeks, even when he's been healthy enough to play, but today was a big reminder of what a massively important contributor he is for this team. A healthy, hot-shooting Fredrick is a huge boost for the Hawkeyes. 

The only other Hawkeye in double figures was Wieskamp with 11 on 4/11 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds, four assists, and two steals... and six turnovers. It was not his brightest effort, especially given his torrid recent run of play. But his scoring burst to start the second half helped Iowa keep pace with Penn State and his rebounding was clutch throughout the game. Hopefully his sharpshooting returns ASAP, though -- Iowa will need him to be firing against Michigan and Ohio State. 

That kind of sums up the Iowa team as a whole, though: they were good enough -- just -- to get a win today (and we're grateful for that), but much better play will be needed to knock off the Wolverines and Buckeyes in a few days. But that's something to fret about in a little while; for now, it's probably best to enjoy another win (Iowa's fourth-straight) and relish the fact that Luka Garza made history. GO PEACOCK AWESOME

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