The #23 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-4, 1-2) lost a barn burner against the #21 Penn State Nittany Lions (12-2, 2-1), 89-86. Luka Garza led all scorers with 34 points and 12 rebounds while Joe Wieskamp added 23 and 10.
It was a back-and-forth game which wasn’t played much outside a five-point margin each way. Despite that, there were multiple times it felt like Iowa might be able to stretch a five or six point lead but just couldn’t with a rotation which dwindled to seven (and almost six).
In the loss, Iowa continued their play of failing around the margins, yielding 15 turnovers to generating just 8, and scoring 13 less points on those ensuing possessions. Garza was also the only Hawk to post a missed free throw, going 7/14 and bringing his season average to a career low 61.4%. It’s not a problem yet because he’s proven capable in past seasons at the line and the load he’s carrying on offense is just so impressive but it is something to monitor.
It was Penn State’s perimeter off the bench who torched Iowa from all over the court. Izaiah Brockington and Curtis Jones combined for 39 points on 62.5% shooting. Jones went 4/6 from deep after shooting 29.7% coming into the game.
The team fought all 40 minutes - and their resiliency is to be commended - but the self-inflicted wounds were too much to overcome against the deeper team in a unique environment.
Luka Garza picked up right where he left off
It feels unfair to harp on the negatives of Garza’s game because he has otherwise returned to form. His third 30-point game of the season is impressive in its own right but it undersells just how good he was in helping Iowa get the lead in the second half: 19 points on 8/9 shooting and 3 offensive boards.
If there’s one critique of the down-the-stretch offense, Iowa struggled getting the ball to Garza enough in areas where he could do damage. He had just one point in the final six minutes - 1/4 free throws & 0/1 from three - that’s simply not enough when Iowa is down to Garza, Wieskamp, and sometimes Joe Toussaint, as shot creators. If teams are going to foul him, then get the ball and make them foul him. I’ll ride with Garza.
This team has no quit, but it might not matter
Despite playing the bulk of the game inside of that five-point margin, Penn State stretched the lead to eight at the under-four timeout of the first half. At that point, Iowa leaned on their two stars, Garza and Wieskamp, score 9 straight points before yielding a putback on PSU’s final possession. Obviously it would have been better to close the half up one instead of down one, but they took one on the chin and punched back. Worth noting: Iowa went with length during that stretch with Bakari Evelyn, Connor McCaffery, and Ryan Kriener filling out that lineup.
That good news didn’t last long after CJ Fredrick was deemed questionable to return with an ankle injury which forced Ryan Kriener into the starting lineup. He played well in the first half, scoring Iowa’s only eight bench points, but was a non-factor offensively during much of the second half. Midway through the period, Kriener sustained knee-to-knee contact and had to sit out some time before returning.
With the quick turnaround to another road game at Nebraska on Tuesday, both injuries should be monitored because Iowa is staring down the barrel of a six-man rotation just as conference play heats up.
Toussaint is still Toussaint
He finished with a quiet 18 points (Connor was Iowa’s only other scorer, with an early 3) and played much steadier than the last time he faced similar competition in Cincinnati. But there are still plenty of warts to his game. He’s not the guy you want taking a quick three pointer in the shot clock and sometimes it’s alright to pass to the guy on the wing after collapsing a 1v3 fast break.
Spinning that positively, it is a more manageable task for Fran to tone that freneticism down than find or create it within his point guard. He is a willing driver, passer, and shooter - all things you want from a point guard - and continues to show an athleticism at that position I can’t recall. But some of his turnovers are passes of his own creation and he sometimes finds himself out of position defensively.
With Iowa playing with less and less margin for error every game, he’ll find himself increasingly important as the lead ball handler. To his credit, he finished with three assists and three turnovers in 29 minutes and at one point down the stretch directed the ball to McCaffery to run the offense. But he did finish with a game-worst -17 in plus/minus. It’s not a perfect stat, but is telling.
Joe Wieskamp is turning into a star
During one stretch in time, he was hunting his shot, attacking mismatches (he directed Garza to the other block so he could iso on half of the floor), and getting to the rim. He went 5/10 from three. He’s becoming the wingman he needs to be if Garza is going to sustain his current offense.
The Palestra was wild
It was such a cool, cool venue and provided PSU with what felt like the first real home-court advantage* they’ve had in AGES. So that piece was neat. It’s what college basketball should feel like.
(*boy was I mistaken that the game might be close to a 50/50 crowd)
But it is a 90+ year old fieldhouse and turned the game into a slip-and-slide due to some combination of condensation from outside humidity and player sweat. Pat Chambers remarked to BTN after the game that he felt like he had lost 10 pounds of water weight. Those breaks felt like they went against Iowa more than for them - Mike Watkins fell down on one wet spot and created another which Wieskamp slipped on, resulting in a turnover - and jaded an otherwise exciting game.
Next up: 1/7, 8:00p at Nebraska Cornhuskers