Luka Garza makes Hawkeye history, but says rallying to beat Penn State was the main thing

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza could chuckle about the first airball free throw of his life because Iowa won the basketball game.

It was the only time in Sunday’s tense 74-68 victory over Penn State that Garza was overcome by nerves as he passed Roy Marble to become the all-time leading scorer in Hawkeye men’s basketball history.

With 15 minutes and 12 seconds remaining, Garza sat through a media timeout knowing that he would have two free throws on the other side. If he made them both, he would have 14 points in the game, enough for 2,117 in his career and the milestone that he had been approaching all season. More importantly, his Hawkeyes would pull within two points of the pesky Nittany Lions.

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“It was real simple,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of his postgame words for star center Luka Garza “I just told him I loved him. I’m proud of him. And we’re not done.” Garza became the leading scorer in Hawkeye men's basketball history and helped his team rally for a 74-68 win over Penn State on Sunday.

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After the timeout, Garza had to wait some more as the officials decided whether Keegan Murray could check into the lineup before or after his first attempt.

“It was a miracle the first one went in,” Garza admitted afterward.

The second one fell inches short of the rim as Garza lowered his head and went to the bench for a few minutes of rest. Garza, and Iowa’s fans, would have to wait another seven minutes to watch the record fall.

Garza called it “fitting” that Jordan Bohannon provided the assist on his history-making layup. The two have four years of history as all-time Hawkeye greats.

What was most appropriate, however, was that Garza’s basket with 8:18 left gave Iowa the lead for good at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There was a huge smile of relief on his face as he ran downcourt. Garza scored the Hawkeyes’ next eight points, finishing with 23 for the game, 2,126 (and counting) in his brilliant college career.

If Iowa hadn’t rallied for its fourth consecutive victory, the record would have seemed hollow, Garza said.

“It wouldn’t have felt right without the win,” he said.

“I didn’t want the focus of this game to be on that (record). I wanted the focus to be on winning.”

Bohannon finished with six assists, leaving him two shy of breaking Jeff Horner’s program record in that category. He’ll get his shot at making Hawkeye history Thursday at Michigan.

“I felt like it was kind of destined to be for me to be the one to pass it to him,” Bohannon said of Garza’s historic layup.

After the game, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery put his arm around his star player and spoke to him before the entire team stayed to watch a video tribute from past Iowa greats congratulating Garza.

“It was real simple,” McCaffery said of his message. “I just told him I loved him. I’m proud of him. And we’re not done.”

Iowa ran its record to 17-6, 11-5 in Big Ten Conference play. Penn State (7-12, 4-11) flustered the Hawkeyes into 16 turnovers and built a lead that swelled to seven points early in the second half.

But Garza got his record and his victory. It was a perfect ending for the Hawkeyes after an imperfect game.

Hawkeyes 'mad' about defense at halftime, clamp down late to earn win

The Hawkeyes trailed 41-36 at halftime as Penn State shot 47.1% from the field. The scene in the locker room was a little volatile, Garza said.

“We were all mad at each other” about the poor defense, he said.

Iowa had held its previous four opponents below 40% shooting, a point of pride for a team that has often been questioned about lackluster defense.

Penn State went 6-for-28 in the second half (21.4%). That included just two field goals in the final 12 minutes.

Iowa coupled that defensive performance with terrific rebounding. The Hawkeyes had a 27-15 second-half edge in that category. The Nittany Lions gathered only two of their 22 missed shots, getting a mere two second-chance points.

Penn State scored only 27 second-half points and became the fourth consecutive Iowa opponent to fail to get to 70 for the game.

Defense and rebounding won Iowa the game.

“That’s a really good feeling for our team and our defense,” said Garza, who had 11 rebounds.

After a scoreless first half, Iowa junior Joe Wieskamp started taking the basketball to the rim at the outset of the second half Sunday. Wieskamp finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in a 74-68 victory over Penn State.

Joe Wieskamp has scoreless first half, fearless opening to the second half

Joe Wieskamp averaged 17.5 points in Iowa’s previous 10 games, thanks to 63% shooting from the 3-point arc. But Penn State had him locked down in the first half. Wieskamp didn’t score a point and, worse yet, committed four turnovers.

He brought a different mindset to the second half. Wieskamp scored Iowa’s first nine points after the break, at a time when Penn State was trying to expand its lead to double digits. He did most of his work at the rim, but did connect on one 3-pointer.

Earlier:Joe Wieskamp ready to seize his moment as Iowa Hawkeyes' leading man

Wieskamp finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 junior wing player showed his teammates something.

“I knew that was coming,” Iowa guard CJ Fredrick said. “I said to him, ‘You got us going.’ He was one of the reasons we won this game, I believe. Because in the second half, he was aggressive. He was making the right plays.”

Garza also went out of his way to acknowledge the lift Wieskamp provided during what had to have been a frustrating game for him.

“Wiesy really battled back in the second half and that showed a lot of growth,” Garza said.

“He was huge for us and really put us back into the game.”

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.