IOWA CITY — If you only saw Luka Garza’s 25 points and 17 rebounds in the box score of Iowa’s 77-68 men’s basketball win over Penn State Saturday, you’d think it was Planet Garza yet again.
Hey, 25 and 17 are 25 and 17.
However, this was all eight Hawkeyes who played leaving the court knowing they played vital roles in their 18th-ranked team knocking off the very good No. 16 Nittany Lions (21-8, 11-7 Big TEn).
Garza, the junior All-America-in-waiting who had his 14th-straight 20-point game, was a frigid 3-of-16 from the field in the first half. Yet, it ended with Iowa (20-9, 11-7) ahead 35-34 because the other four starters did this and that, and the three guys off the bench did likewise.
“I missed a lot of chippies,” Garza said. “I’ve never missed that many shots in my life.”
But Joe Wieskamp scored seven points in the half, and sub Cordell Pemsl had six points and five rebounds, and Joe Toussaint had a couple of steals and three of his career-high eight assists, and Connor McCaffery was Connor McCaffery.
Oh, CJ Fredrick scored eight points before the break. Eight players are better than seven when the eighth is as good as Fredrick.
The freshman returned after a three-game absence with a sprained ankle, He hit a 3-pointer three minutes into the game, and ended with 10 points and getting called “a big difference” by Penn State Coach Patrick Chambers.
“He’s such a good cutter,” Wieskamp said.
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“The way he stretches the floor with his 3-point shot, his ability to defend, he’s tremendous,” Garza said. “He’s obviously one of our best players, one of the best shooters in the country. He’s good.”
Fredrick played 32 minutes and looked like nothing had ever been physically wrong with him.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m so appreciative of Coach and our training staff just letting me come back when I’m ready. It didn’t feel like I had to force myself to get back. I think you saw I was fresh, had a little bounce.”
Ryan Kriener returned to being a sixth man. The roles of Bakari Evelyn and Pemsl didn’t diminish with Fredrick’s return. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery called Evelyn’s 3-pointer with 4:40 left that pushed his team’s lead to 67-54 the biggest of any in the game.
“Number one, they’re character guys,” McCaffery said of the trio. “BK (Evelyn), Cordell, Ryan Kriener, they’re veterans. So they come into the game knowing what we need and what they can do.”
McCaffery said no one on his team is “hung up on minutes, who starts. They just want to win, and they really, truly love each other.”
Iowa used a 7-0 run in the first 1:37 of the half to open a 42-34 lead, and led between seven and 17 points the rest of the way.
“We wanted to punch them in the mouth early (in the second half),” Fredrick said, “let them know we didn’t play our best in the first half and were still up by one, get some separation and kind of set the tone for how the second half was going to go.”
In those first two minutes of the second half, it was Tyson Fury against Deontay Wilder.
Iowa’s home finale is Tuesday against Purdue. The Boilermakers threw all the haymakers when the teams met at Purdue on Feb. 5 and the Hawkeyes got decked, 104-68.
It’s a safe assumption that someone wants payback.
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