IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team overcame its first bout of adversity on Thursday night against Grambling State.
The Tigers’ erased a nine-point second half deficit to tie the game at 56 before Grambling State’s Anthony Gaston knocked down a 3-pointer, giving the Tigers a 59-56 lead with 10:58 remaining.
How would the Hawkeyes respond to their first second-half deficit of the season?
Iowa tightened its defense to force nine straight misses and a 6:16 scoring drought. Offensively, the Hawkeyes went with a healthy dose of its frontcourt featuring freshmen Jack Nunge and Luka Garza, and sophomore Tyler Cook to reel off 14 straight points, leading to a 85-74 victory on Mediacom Court.
“Give credit to Grambling State, they played a great game,” said Garza. “They kept hitting 3s even though we were doing better on defense and they kept hitting tough shots.
“We knew we had to tough this one out. It was going to be an ugly win, but we had to go get it.”
Sophomore Isaiah Moss’ 3-pointer tied the game at 59 before the big three scored Iowa’s next 17 points. Nunge scored 11 of the points during the stretch, including a 3-pointer at the 2:49 mark that opened up a 13-point Hawkeye lead.
Iowa had five players reach double figures in the victory, including a career-high 17 points from Nunge. He made 6-of-8 field goals, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed seven rebounds.
Moss and Cook finished with 15 points apiece (Cook also had seven rebounds), while Garza (13 points, 9 rebounds) and sophomore Jordan Bohannon had 12 points and seven assists.
The Hawkeyes shot 54.3 percent from the field, made eight 3-pointers, and shot 75 percent (27-of-36) from the free throw stripe. Iowa had a 36-27 rebounding advantage, but the Tigers grabbed 13 on the offensive glass.
Grambling State’s Axel Mpoyo led all scorers with 21 points and the Tigers stayed competitive, making 10-of-24 3-point attempts.
QUOTING IOWA HEAD COACH FRAN MCCAFFERY
“We did enough good things to win. We executed down the stretch, for the most part, got to the free throw line, and utilized our size advantage. We only had four turnovers in the second half.”
NUNGE’S BIG SECOND HALF
Nunge had his hand in a little bit of everything for the Hawkeyes in the second half. The forward played a team-high 17 second-half minutes, where he made 6-of-8 field goals, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed seven rebounds.
“He’s is comfortable out there with what position he’s in,” said McCaffery. “He plays the way it should be played. He doesn’t try to do what he can’t do, he knows what he’s good at, he knows his teammates and our offense. He takes advantage of his size.”
THAT’S JUST HOW I DREW IT UP…
With just over a minute remaining in the first half, sophomore Cordell Pemsl grabbed a loose ball underneath the basket with Iowa clinging to a 40-35 lead. With his momentum pushing him out-of-bounds, Pemsl tried throwing the ball off a Grambling State defender.
The ball whiffed, but it found a wide-open Moss on the left wing for a 3-point field goal give the Hawkeyes a 43-35 lead. Pemsl was credited with the assist.
Freshman Connor McCaffery said Wednesday he expected to play Thursday night, but the guard’s official Hawkeye debut had to wait. After missing the first two games with an ankle injury, McCaffery was diagnosed with mononucleosis — a diagnosis that will sideline him for at least three weeks — during Wednesday’s practice.
After shooting 60 percent or below in its first two games, the Hawkeyes made a dramatic improvement at the free throw stripe. Iowa made 75 percent of its attempts — 27-of-36 free throws — against Grambling State. The Tigers were perfect at the line, but attempted just six in the contest.
Iowa committed 13 turnovers, which led to 21 Grambling State points.
The Hawkeyes had 20 assists on their 25 field goals. Iowa has had 20 or more assists in all three games this season.
The Hawkeyes hit the road for the first time this season, traveling to Georgetown for the Cayman Islands Basketball Classic. Iowa faces Louisiana on Monday at 11 a.m. (CT).