By Adam Hensley
Jack Nunge hasn’t been consistent this season, but against Ohio State this past weekend he was the only Hawkeye who jumped off the stat sheet in Iowa’s 82-64 loss.
Following the game, head coach Fran McCaffery was asked what stood out to him. His answer? Nunge.
In Columbus, Ohio, the freshman netted a career-high 18 points coming off the bench for 21 minutes on the court. He also grabbed a team-high 5 rebounds (three of which came on the offensive end, another team-best mark) and didn’t turn the ball over.
“Nunge was great,” McCaffery said. “He was aggressive, he was physical. They came after him, and he’s been doing that lately. They put smaller, quicker guys underneath him, and he got low, and was really strong, and tough, and made shots, made plays in traffic.”
Prior to Iowa’s second matchup with Ohio State, it had been nearly two months since Nunge scored in double digits; his most recent performance came against Southern on Dec. 10, when he notched 11.
Nunge came close just two games later, with 9 points against Southern Utah, but after that, the forward has had a quiet Big Ten campaign, including a stretch of nine games in which he scored 7 total points.
Confidence has been an issue for the Newburgh, Indiana, native. His minutes diminished considerably when conference play began; Nunge averaged 19.8 minutes in nonconference games, but those totals trickled down to 12.3 minutes per game in Big Ten play before to the Ohio State game (Nunge did record a career-high 26 minutes against Indiana).
When he gets solid playing time, however, Nunge has delivered.
He has played 20 or more minutes in 13 games this season. In those games, he’s averaged 10.1 points; 132 of Nunge’s 169 points came in those games.
Nunge’s average dipped to 2.8 points per game when he’s seen fewer than 20 minutes of action.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game that his team entered the game knowing Iowa could score in a variety of ways, not just in the form of Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook, the usual suspects.
“We were aware that Iowa could really score the ball,” he said. “They did that in the first half. They have a lot of stuff to guard, and I do not think we were good defensively in the first half.”
Still searching for defensive consistency
Iowa fell victim to another big run to Ohio State, and that’s been the case in many of its losses this season — the Hawkeyes fail to get stops when they need to, and offensely, they can’t counter when opponents heat up from the floor.
“You got to be able to defend on a consistent basis,” McCaffery said. “We’ve always been good in every games at times, in stretches, but not consistently. That’s really what it comes down to.”
There was no defense on either side in Iowa’s 96-93 loss to Michigan State on Feb. 6, but Iowa’s loss to Ohio State mirrored its 82-58 loss on the road to Penn State on Feb. 3.
In each game, Iowa’s opponent jumped out to a lead, and the Black and Gold could not regain any sort of traction.
“They got it back up to 18 pretty quick,” McCaffery said. “As much as anything, it was bad offense on our part, with some good defense by them.”