Iowa basketball has to rally late to beat Grambling State, 85-74

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa had no one to blame but itself for being locked in its first close game of the season Thursday.

Lazy passes led to turnovers. Uninspired defense led to open shots. Grambling State was the more energetic team.

The Hawkeyes trudged to the bench for a timeout trailing by three points with 10 minutes, 53 seconds remaining at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa's Tyler Cook dunks the ball during the Hawkeyes' game against Grambling State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

Isaiah Moss rose up for a 3-pointer to tie the score. Jack Nunge muscled inside for a pair of layups. Nunge then fed his fellow freshman Luka Garza for a dunk, Garza letting out a cathartic roar afterward.

Iowa went on a 14-0 run to create some separation on the plucky Tigers (0-2) and held on for an 85-74 victory.

"We made some changes and pointed out some things in those changes in what we needed to focus on," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of his message during that timeout. "That’s the important thing in that situation. Let’s focus on what we are doing and not scream and yell about what we are not doing.”

Iowa had opened the season with easy 30-point wins over Chicago State and Alabama State. Grambling, No. 346 in the latest KenPom rankings, figured to be another cakewalk. The Hawkeyes certainly played as if they expected as much.

But the Tigers battled hard, forcing Iowa to eventually earn the win. 

"They are a team that plays really hard and they really compete and they are together," McCaffery said of Grambling State. "Our activity level was pretty good, but it wasn’t what it needed to be.”

Nunge led Iowa with 17 points. Tyler Cook and Moss added 15 each.

"We just had a lot of defensive breakdowns and they were knocking down open 3s. But we were giving them open 3s. We underestimated them, for sure," said Garza, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.

"They hit 10 3s and that just can't happen. Against a better team that's going to be a loss."

Iowa freshman point guard Connor McCaffery missed a third consecutive game after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. He is scheduled to be the primary backup to Jordan Bohannon this season. In his absence, junior shooting guard Brady Ellingson has been seeing time at the point as well.

Iowa next heads to the Cayman Islands for tournament action starting with an 11 a.m. Monday quarterfinal against Louisiana. McCaffery will miss all three games there.