Nunge, Wieskamp, Toussaint all help Garza as No. 3 Iowa demolishes Iowa State
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Before Luka Garza could turn Friday’s Cy-Hawk basketball game into his own "SportsCenter" segment, Iowa needed his backup to show up for some key first-half minutes.
And that’s what Jack Nunge did.
Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said after his third-ranked team demolished Iowa State 105-77 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena that he was actually weighing how long he could sit Garza with two first-half fouls. McCaffery is loath to let any of his players get a third foul before intermission, believing that it will only sap them of their aggression later as they worry about a possible fourth whistle.
But could he really do without his star, Garza, for 11 minutes in a rivalry game?
Nunge made the question moot. The 6-foot-11 post player entered the game with the Hawkeyes leading by eight points and was so effective that Garza could rest comfortably. By halftime, Iowa’s lead was 11.
How did he do it?
Nunge made 6 of 7 shots, including a 3-pointer, in 12 wearying first-half minutes. He corralled eight rebounds, five of them on the offensive end. He blocked one shot and made a nice find out of the post when he noticed CJ Fredrick open at the left elbow and fed him the basketball for a 3-pointer that gave the Hawkeyes (5-0) a 34-32 lead they never relinquished.
“I just knew I couldn’t get in foul trouble, for one,” Nunge said after finishing with his second career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds). “But also I knew that I had to step up for my team.”
Nunge is technically a sophomore, but he’s in his fourth year with the Hawkeyes, the same as Garza. In that time, he has transformed from a wing player into a 245-pound forward/center. He said this summer he’s even surprised himself that he could play in the post at the Big Ten Conference level.
He didn’t surprise McCaffery, who said he’s known all along that Nunge could be an impact player.
“He makes jumpers. He blocks shots. He's smart. He's in the right place. He rebounds in traffic. He can handle it and pass it,” McCaffery said of Nunge.
“He's just a terrific player, and we needed him.”
Nunge is coming off of knee surgery and still working into playing shape. He was visibly exhausted late in the first half and asked his coach for a quick breather. But he came right back in and converted a couple of alley-oop dunks to extend Iowa’s lead.
“I’ve put in a lot of work in the weight room, and I’ve built up a lot of muscle from what I had back then,” Nunge said of his high school days in Indiana. “It’s definitely something I knew all offseason and the past four years guarding Luka every day. You know, he’s the best center in the country. So I can just use that to my advantage.”
Nunge used it to Iowa’s advantage Friday. He’s no Garza, but who is? Nunge showed he’s plenty good enough to put his coach’s mind at ease.
LEISTIKOW: Garza etches his name in Cy-Hawk lore
'Aggressive' Wieskamp drives basketball at — and through — the Cyclones
Joe Wieskamp was another Hawkeye who kept the team on track when Garza was only able to watch. Wieskamp scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, all of them on drives into the paint or on free throws after being fouled on drives. One game after making 5 of 7 3-pointers in a win over North Carolina, Wieskamp attempted only one Friday, instead seeking out mismatches inside.
“He kind of got that idea in his head that every time he has the ball, he has the potential to make a positive play for our team. When he’s confident and aggressive, that’s the best Joe Wieskamp. And that’s the Joe Wieskamp we need to win games,” Garza said.
“When he’s aggressive and he drives to the rim, there’s no one that can guard him. And then it’s just trouble everywhere. Because once he gets a couple to the rim, you know he’s going to start knocking down his 3s. He’s just a tough guard for anybody.”
Wieskamp is averaging 14.2 points per game on 51.2% shooting. More importantly, he seems to know exactly what the Hawkeyes require of him each night. And he has a skill set varied enough to provide it.
Toussaint brings defensive intensity, and the wisdom to pass to Garza
Backup point guard Joe Toussaint was providing some good energy for Iowa in the first half when he picked up a second foul and was sent to the bench.
He returned in the second half and had one of his best stretches in two years with the Hawkeyes. McCaffery lit into his team during a media timeout after Iowa State had cut the lead to 68-55 on some baskets that were lightly defended, to put it politely. McCaffery wasn’t so polite.
“We weren't getting our defense put together and they were taking it right through us,” McCaffery complained.
“You shouldn't be able to drive from beyond the top of the key to the basket against the zone and lay the ball up. There are certain things that are not going to be tolerated and shouldn't be tolerated by the coaching staff or the players themselves.”
Toussaint can be a bulldog, and he seemed to know exactly what McCaffery was referencing. On the first Cyclone possession after the timeout, Iowa forced a shot-clock violation, with Toussaint knocking the ball loose and diving after it as the buzzer sounded. There was another 30-second violation by Iowa State 90 seconds later.
Toussaint started feeding Garza as he blistered the Cyclones with an amazing offensive run. Four consecutive times, Garza scored, pushing the Hawkeye lead to 22 points. Toussaint had the assist on all four of those.
Toussaint finished with four points and seven assists without a turnover in his 13 minutes of playing time. It got lost in Garza’s remarkable 34 points in 17 minutes, but was still impressive in its own right.
“I thought Joe's activity at the top of the zone and understanding of what was going on behind him was really, really special,” McCaffery said.
“He gets his hands on the ball. He rebounds the ball. And then he pushes the ball. He's smart. He recognized this guy is on fire, so let's get it to him. … That's what the great point guards do, and he was terrific.
Iowa next hosts Northern Illinois at 1 p.m. Sunday.
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.