By Pete Ruden
Iowa’s battle against Grambling State was a lot closer than it should have been in Carver-Hawkeye on Thursday.
While the Hawkeyes hadn’t played in any close games, given the talent level of the teams they have faced, Thursday was different.
Iowa still escaped with an 85-74 win, but it wasn’t easy.
No matter how well the Hawkeyes played, the Tigers wouldn’t go away. Iowa struggled getting back on defense early in the game, which gave Grambling State a chance from the beginning.
Freshman Jack Nunge played especially well down the stretch and gave Iowa a big boost in crunch time.
After Isaiah Moss tied the game at 59 with a 3-pointer, Nunge hit a go-ahead bucket, and the Hawkeyes never looked back.
Iowa went on a 14-0 run at in which it forced Grambling to miss nine-consecutive field goals.
Nunge dropped a career-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including three 3-pointers, to go along with 7 rebounds. His efficiency from the floor came at a time when the Hawkeyes needed it the most.
“I credit my teammates; they were getting me the ball in places I could score, and I was knocking them down tonight,” he said.
Even though he’s just a freshman, Nunge has made an impact all season.
Head coach Fran McCaffery knows what he’s capable of, and his trust showed when he kept him on the floor as the game wound down.
“He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” McCaffery said. “He doesn’t try to do what he can’t do. He knows what he’s good at, he knows his teammates, he knows our offense, he knows all the different spots in our offense, which is special for a young guy.”
Iowa’s ball movement was impressive yet again. The Hawkeyes created a balanced offense that saw five players get into double figures with 20 assists on 25 field goals.
Despite Iowa’s good offense and obvious height advantage, the Tigers managed to grab 13 offensive boards and hit 10 shots from 3-point range to stay in the game.
Freshman Luka Garza, who dropped 13 points and 9 rebounds, didn’t think the Tigers had the ability they displayed from long range.
“We underestimated them for sure,” he said. “They came out and played hard. Give credit to them, they played a great game. They hit 10 3s; that just can’t happen. Against a better team, that’s going to be a loss.”
Turnovers were also a problem, especially in the first half when the Hawkeyes committed 9 of them. They made a big improvement in the second half, though, only giving the ball away four times.
After a near upset, there are certainly things Iowa can improve on. It will need to get better in different aspects as Big Ten play approaches.
They might not have played the way they wanted to, but the Hawkeyes are prepared to use this game to teach them in the future.
“I guess there’s a lot of things we could really forget about, but at the end of the day, you have to look back at what you did in the past and try to learn from it the best you can,” point guard Jordan Bohannon said. “Games like these that we were able to pull out are going to teach us a lot of important things in the future, especially when we get to Big Ten play, especially when we get to the Cayman Islands.”