No. 5 Iowa 70, Purdue 55: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa began its Big Ten Conference basketball season Tuesday by taming a team that has tormented the Hawkeyes for three years.

No more, Purdue.

Fifth-ranked Iowa 70, Boilermakers 55.

Luka Garza scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Hawkeyes (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) again. Joe Wieskamp added 17 points and nine more rebounds. Connor McCaffery had six assists and two big points when he alertly followed his own missed 3-point shot and turned it into a rebound and layup just after the Boilermakers (6-3, 1-1) had trimmed the Hawkeye lead to 62-55, the closest they got in the second half.

The evening wasn't perfect. Purdue turned the game into a slugfest. Iowa was expecting that, and finally outslugged the Boilermakers to snap a four-game losing streak in this series.

Iowa guard CJ Fredrick (5) gets fouled by Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic (55) during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Here's what we learned:

Life without Luka

Garza has typically been adept at avoiding fouls, even as a 6-foot-11 big man in the rugged Big Ten. But he got called for two in the opening minutes of the second half, giving him three for the game, and he earned a spot on Fran McCaffery's bench with Iowa leading 47-35.

Jack Nunge replaced him, and the questions were how long could the Hawkeyes get by without Garza, and what would the margin be when he returned? The answers were five minutes, and 14 points. Iowa ran its offense through Wieskamp during that stretch, continued to play solid defense and made both questions moot.

The Hawkeyes are much better with Garza on the floor, of course, but they showed that the all-American can get some breathers from time to time, even against Big Ten opponents.

Throwing their weight around

Purdue had won the past four meetings with Iowa, primarily by sheer physical dominance. But the Hawkeyes are the older, stronger bunch this year, and showed it in the first half. The evidence was in the statistics beyond mere points.

Iowa outrebounded Purdue 23-17, surrendering only three second-chance points. It needed to be a team effort, and it was. Seven of the nine Hawkeyes who played had at least one defensive rebound, and the two who didn’t were point guards Jordan Bohannon and Joe Toussaint. Purdue attempted only two free throws, compared with Iowa’s 13.

The most telling example of the Hawkeyes’ growth in physicality came late in the half, when Wieskamp, Garza and Nunge all got offensive rebounds on one possession, drawing two fouls in the process and coming up with three free throws before Purdue could get the ball back. That made the lead 37-27.

The value of experience

Fran McCaffery has spoken all year about the luxury he has with seven players who have been starters in their college careers on his current roster. These guys have played alongside each other for years, and that familiarity was exemplified in a first-half spurt that saw Iowa build a 31-23 lead.

First, junior point guard Connor McCaffery dribbled to his right and saw an opportunity. Wieskamp and Garza saw the same thing. Wieskamp cut toward the basket, while Garza sealed off his defender to give him a clear lane. McCaffery fed Wieskamp a bounce pass in stride and the Hawkeyes got an easy layup that was the result of perfect teamwork.

Later, Nunge grabbed an offensive rebound while redshirt sophomore CJ Fredrick sprinted to the left elbow. Nunge had an easy 10-foot shot, but instead turned his back to the basket and gave Fredrick an underhand toss for an even more open 3-pointer. Fredrick was on the money. Nunge’s unselfish play got the Hawkeyes at least one additional point on that sequence.

Iowa’s next game is at Minnesota at 7 p.m. Friday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.