Iowa falters late to lose to Penn State in noisy, hot, historic Palestra

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

PHILADELPHIA — Iowa’s basketball players will remember their one game in the historic Palestra for the noise and the heat.

For the moisture on the floor and the sweat on their bodies.

For big shots made and big free throws missed.

For careless turnovers and lazy transition defense.

And, ultimately, for an 89-86 loss to Penn State on Saturday that left the short-handed Hawkeyes drained.

“We had a lot of adversity. We’ve had that all year,” Iowa center Luka Garza said. “I’m really proud of our guys, the way we battled. I’m just disappointed in myself I couldn’t put us in position to win the game when I had the chance.”

Garza scored 34 points and had 12 rebounds. But he was referring to the seven free throws he missed in 14 opportunities, including three in a row late in the game.

“I know I can do better than that,” he said. “I was definitely a little out of whack.”

Garza was being hard on himself. He and Joe Wieskamp played all 20 minutes in the second half as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery used a seven-player rotation.

Starting shooting guard CJ Fredrick was battling an ankle/foot injury and missed all four of his first-half shots. He did not return.

Iowa center Luka Garza, sweat pooling on his face, reacts after being called for a foul against Penn State during the second half at The Palestra on Saturday. Garza finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds in the Hawkeyes' 89-86 loss.

Starting guard Connor McCaffery was dealing with an illness and scored only three points on 1 of 6 shooting. Reserve center Ryan Kriener, who started the second half in Fredrick’s place, went out briefly with a knee injury in the late stages of a game that stretched on for 2 hours and 20 minutes.

That left it to Garza (19 points), Wieskamp (13) and Joe Toussaint (16) to score all of Iowa’s second-half points in a 93-year-old gymnasium that was filled with 8,725 screaming fans and no air conditioning.

It was hot. Moisture pooled on the floor so often that each stoppage in play precipitated an onrush of arena workers with brooms and towels, feverishly whisking the water away before play resumed.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever sweat that much in my whole life,” Wieskamp said after scoring a season-high 23 points and adding 10 rebounds. “I could definitely feel it at the end, the moisture on my hands. The ball was kind of slipping on my shot a little bit, so that was kind of throwing me off. The floor was getting really slick.”

There were 24 lead changes and 10 ties.

But the No. 21 Nittany Lions (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) made their final five shots to put the game away, punishing No. 25 Iowa (10-4, 1-2) for lackluster defense.

That, not Garza’s free throws, was the difference in the game, Wieskamp said.

“We struggled the whole second half getting back. They scored a lot in transition. We had guys go to the offensive glass and not sprint back,” Wieskamp said.

“We’ve just got to do a better job getting back in transition and walling off. Because, for the most part I think we defended well in the halfcourt. But they got their points off steals and in transition.”

Iowa committed 15 turnovers. Penn State turned them in to 20 points.

Fran McCaffery said he was more upset about his team’s defense earlier in the game, when his offense was putting up points but unable to build on the lead because Nittany Lions reserve guard Izaiah Brockington kept hustling back downcourt and finishing in the lane. Brockington scored a career-high 23 points to lead Penn State.

“We let him too many times get a head of steam toward the rim, and it put other guys down there in tough position,” Garza said of Brockington.

The Nittany Lions got 46 points from bench players. Iowa got eight, all from Kriener.

This was a Penn State home game, and the soldout crowd reflected it. Unlike the sleepy atmosphere normally found at Nittany Lions games in State College, the Palestra was pulsating, with 90% of the fans wearing Penn State white and cheering on a team that has six players from Philadelphia.

The Hawkeyes handled the emotions well most of the game. When Penn State build a 37-29 lead late inn the first half, Garza and Wieskamp calmly scored the next nine points. Iowa trailed 39-38 at intermission.

The Hawkeyes made nine of their first 13 shots in the second half, and led for much of it.

But the offensive success was built on three players. Garza had his way inside. Wieskamp hit five 3-pointers and drove to the rim when the Nittany Lions started closing out on him. Toussaint scored 16 of his career-high 18 points after intermission, not afraid to drive against taller defenders.

Iowa center Luka Garza prepares to shoot the ball against Penn State during the first half Saturday at The Palestra in Philadelphia.

Help on that end of the court was hard to find, however. Fredrick was missed. McCaffery was ineffective. Bakari Evelyn and Cordell Pemsl were reluctant to shoot.

Fatigue set in and the Hawkeyes did not handle it so well. Penn State, fueled by its fans, took over and won the game late.

“I knew Luka and I both had to step up. I think for the most part we fought hard,” Wieskamp said.

“It seemed like some other guys just weren’t in their comfort zone. We were turning the ball over. …This one hurts a little bit. We knew that this would be a huge road win for us, especially in the Big Ten, in this type of environment.”

Iowa next plays at Nebraska on Tuesday.

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

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