Iowa Men's Basketball

Jack Nunge inspires Iowa men's basketball in 99-58 win over Western Illinois

Nunge, whose father died Nov. 21, had 18 points to supplement Luka Garza's 35

IOWA CITY — The obvious thing here is to immediately look ahead.

Iowa’s triad of designated men’s basketball victims have come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and left, the Hawkeyes got three routs, and now perennial national power North Carolina comes here next Tuesday for a real game. The real season starts then.

However, two things happened in Iowa’s 99-58 crunching of Western Illinois Thursday night that cannot be skipped past.

First, for the second-straight game, Iowa senior center Luka Garza scored at least 30 points in the first half. He finished with 35, leaving the game for good with 10:38 left. He had 41 in Iowa’s previous game.

Second, and more importantly, 6-foot-11, fourth-year sophomore forward Jack Nunge made his season debut and scored 18 points off the bench in 19 minutes less than two weeks after a family tragedy.

Before Wednesday’s practice, Nunge had been away from the team for a week-and-a-half because he went home to Newburgh, Ind., after the sudden death of his father, Dr. Mark Nunge.

Nunge made 8 of 11 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers. He moved well, positioned himself well, and looked every bit the player that Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery had been saying good things about before the season began.

“It was just so incredible to see,” McCaffery said. “To see him come out and get 18 points and really be on the floor at a critical juncture of the game, it’s just amazing feeling as a coach. I’m just so thrilled for Jack and his family.”

It was Nunge’s first game since he tore an ACL in Iowa’s fifth game of last season.

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“It’s been a long road for me,” he said. “It’s been over a year since I played a game. To finally go out and just show what I can do, it felt really good for me.”

Nunge’s father died suddenly on Nov. 21, a Saturday. After getting the news he immediately drove to Indiana to join his mother, two sisters and two brothers.

“It was just kind of an insane situation,” Nunge said. “I talked to my dad on Friday night, then I got the call nobody wants to get the next morning. I knew I had to go home and be there for my mom, and be strong for them.

“But my mom’s strong and my siblings are all strong, and we’re going to get through this.”

The family was at Thursday’s game. Including, Nunge said, his father.

“He loved to watch basketball, he loved watching the Hawks. So (me) being able to come back and play for the Hawks, I think that’s something that he’s really looking forward to. He’s watching from above.

“He doesn’t have to worry about work. He can just focus on the game and watch me play, and that’s something that I feel good about.

“I knew he was watching. It didn’t matter if he was here or not, just knowing that he was watching the game.”

Garza had a four-point halftime lead over the Leathernecks by his lonesome. His teammates chipped in 18 for a 48-26 edge.

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Afterward, Garza said Nunge’s performance “was incredible. His strength is so inspiring. I was so excited to get on the court with him again.”

WIU showed plenty of gumption when it cut a 27-point deficit to 15 in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Nunge scored 11 points in a 3:46 stretch to help turn the contest back into a romp.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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