IOWA CITY, Iowa — An early second-half surge propelled the No. 18/17 University of Iowa men’s basketball team to a 77-68 victory over No. 16/14 Penn State and its 20th victory of the season Saturday afternoon on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We wanted to punch them in the mouth early (in the second half) and let them know that we didn’t play our best in the first half and were still up one,” said redshirt freshman CJ Fredrick. “We wanted to create separation and set how the second half was going to go.”
The Hawkeyes led 35-34 at the break before beginning the second half with a 12-3 run to build a 47-37 lead. Redshirt sophomore Connor McCaffery’s 3-pointer opened the spurt, junior Luka Garza’s three-point play pushed the lead to nine and a Garza slam extended the lead to 10 with 15:26 left.
“It was important to come out and make a punch to start the second half,” said Garza. “We needed to come out and enforce our will. After that we were good, rolling and continuing to get stops. Our defense really picked up in the second half.”
Iowa’s defense suffocated the Nittany Lions in the second half, limiting Penn State to 13 points over the first 10-plus minutes. Penn State shot just 35.3 percent in the second half and 37.3 percent for the game.
“Coach made an emphasis of getting back in transition and transition defense in the second half,” said Fredrick. “They were running up our backs in the first half. We wanted to get back and make them play in the half court.”
The Nittany Lions pulled to within eight points with 5:48 to play at 62-54 on a Miles Dredd 3-pointer, but Iowa followed with nine straight points, highlighted by a Bakari Evelyn 3-pointer and two free throws that opened a game-high 71-54 lead.
Garza posted a double-double, finishing with 25 points and 17 rebounds albeit coming on an 11-of-28 shooting night from the floor. Garza went 8-of-12 and scored 18 in the second half following a 3-of-16 performance in the first half.
“I refocused,” said Garza. “The first half I was missing a lot of chippies and missing a lot of getting them back and missing them. I haven’t missed that many shots in my life. Over the course of my career, I haven’t gotten to a point where I don’t let that bother me, I am going to keep shooting the ball. I know I can score the ball.
“No matter how many shots it takes, I am going to continue to aggressive and confident because I need to be that way for our team.”
Iowa shot 50 percent (14-of-28) in the second half and 42.4 percent for the game, made seven 3-pointers, and was 14-of-17 from the free throw stripe. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded Penn State, 45-41, and had 22 assists on its 28 field goals.
Lamar Stevens led a trio of Nittany Lions with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Quoting Head Coach Fran McCaffery
“Our (defensive) activity level in the second half was better, but we were also better offensively. We didn’t quick shoot the ball. We didn’t have too many live ball turnovers. They get on runs if you shoot a crazy shot and it bounces wrong, they’re gone and are going score. If you turn it over in traffic, they’re going to score. You try to make sure you’re executing your offense in a way that keeps them on defense and allows you to get your defense back. That gives you a chance against their multiple offensive players.”
Everybody that played scored.
Joe Toussaint had eight assists (in 16 minutes).
Connor McCaffery had six points, four assists, and zero turnovers.
“There are so many scorers, so many people that can impact the game in a number of ways,” said Garza. “Cordell (Pemsl) was huge for us in the first half, Ryan (Kriener) was huge in different parts of the game, and BK (Bakari Evelyn) and Joe T. (Joe Toussaint). There are so many guys, that on any given night, can go off.”
“It was great to have Luka in there, we kept going to him, but his play opens areas for everybody else,” said Fran McCaffery. “BK had a huge 3, Joe T. had that one stretch where he was tremendous… it was all our eight guys contributing the way they can.”
- National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza recorded his team-leading 14th double-double of the season today versus Penn State (25 points, 17 rebounds). The junior center has surpassed 20 points in 14 consecutive league contests, a new school record. His 17 rebounds was one shy of a career best.
- Luka Garza scored his 1,500th career point today, and moved into second place on Iowa’s single-season scoring list today surpassing Fred Brown and Roy Marble.
- Iowa improved to 14-1 at home this season, winning its last 13 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
- Today was the Hawkeyes’ seventh win over an AP ranked opponent this season, the most by an Iowa team since 2006 (8).
- Today was Iowa’s 20th victory of the 2019-20 season. The Hawkeyes have reached 20 wins six of the last eight seasons.
- Iowa built its lead courtesy of a 14-2 scoring run spanning halves, including scoring the first seven points of the second half.
- The Hawkeyes were credited with 22 assists on 28 field goals. Freshman Joe Toussaint dished out a personal-best eight assists.
- Today was only the seventh time in program history that Iowa played on Leap Year Day.
The Hawkeyes return to action Tuesday, hosting Purdue in their regular season home finale at 8 p.m. (CT) on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.