Hawkeyes look for more from Nunge: 'You have to trust your talent'
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Fran McCaffery had to pull aside his starting power forward Tuesday and show him some data.
Jack Nunge was 0-for-5 from the field during Iowa’s first two games, looking like a shadow of the player McCaffery sees in practice every day.
“I showed him the stats for five-and-a-half weeks of practice — he's probably been our most consistent guy,” McCaffery said Wednesday.
“At some point, you have to trust your talent and play through.”
Nunge, a 6-foot-11 redshirt sophomore, will get his next chance at 7 p.m. Friday, when the Hawkeyes (1-1) host Oral Roberts (1-2). The game is not being televised.
Those who show up at Carver-Hawkeye Arena will get to see whether Nunge took McCaffery’s words to heart. He told reporters he has, and expects much more out of himself.
“I’ve just got to play the way I play in practice every day — knocking down shots, taking it to the other team,” Nunge said.
“I just need to be more aggressive, look for my shot more.”
Nunge sat out last year to add muscle and become more effective in the post. But he hasn’t shown that in the early going, contributing just a pair of free throws in 15 minutes in the Hawkeyes’ season-opening win against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville before going scoreless in 10 minutes in a loss to DePaul. In that game, Nunge missed two early shots and committed a turnover before being benched for the rest of the first half. He committed an early foul in the second half and sat again.
“You can't miss a 3 and then not shoot again. You have to shoot five more. He's a really good 3-point shooter,” McCaffery said. “Some guys have that innate characteristic in them. He's a guy that, he's an efficient team guy, and if he's missing a 3, he's not going to keep firing. He's just got to.”
McCaffery said Nunge has been shooting well over 40 percent from the 3-point arc — and well over 50 percent from the field overall, in practices. He’s been rebounding well. He has more assists than turnovers.
That’s what junior center Luka Garza has seen as well from his friend in practices. He, too, offered Nunge some advice this week.
“We’ve all been there. You can’t really get a rhythm going and you get subbed out and somebody else is playing well and you don’t really get another opportunity to get back out there and establish yourself,” Garza said.
“I’m excited to see what he does this Friday. He’s a guy, we need him to be himself to succeed.”
Nunge said he thinks it will help him to get an early easy basket, a dunk or a putback. He also believes he needs to post up more in order to get more touches. He’s confident he’ll make an impact soon.
“Coach always tells me to have amnesia. Just know that the next play, I’m going to make a better one. He’s really in my ear a lot about doing that and just shooting, because I’m a great shooter,” Nunge said.
“He’s always been trying to encourage me, trying to make me be the best version of myself.”
McCaffery thought Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl played well at the power forward spot Monday against DePaul, which is another reason he wasn’t in a hurry to reinsert Nunge into the lineup in that game. But he believes his message afterward got across.
“I don't think we want to kill the kid for 10 minutes of activity,” McCaffery said.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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