IOWA CITY — Tuesday, Joe Toussaint admitted he was having a bit of a confidence problem.
The Iowa men’s basketball team had won its last three games, but Toussaint hadn’t been the player who scored 32 points over two games earlier this month. He played well enough against Penn State on Jan. 4 to be named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week.
However, it seemed the Hawkeyes’ three-game win streak had been despite Toussaint. He had totals of 6 points and 8 turnovers over that time.
“I would say I’m handling it well,” Toussaint told reporters Tuesday, “but I honestly don’t know if I am or not, to be honest with you.”
Could Iowa afford to keep starting him and giving him major minutes? It couldn’t afford to do otherwise. The potential upside is way too great.
If Toussaint consistently plays similarly to the way he did in Iowa’s 85-80 win over Rutgers Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Hawkeyes have something formidable. They clearly have shown they can compete in the Big Ten (they’re 5-3) with scoring machine Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and the eight-player rotation they’re riding through the first three months of 2020.
However, when Toussaint is in constant attack mode, jetting around under control like he was against the No. 24 Scarlet Knights, Iowa’s offense finds an even higher level.
Toussaint knifed to the basket for a score in transition in the game’s third minute, serving notice he would be a significant part of this game. Which he was, with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 30 good minutes.
When he got those rebounds, it was go time. The good kind.
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“My thought process is just to get down there,” Toussaint said. “Any way I can get downhill. And it’s not necessarily to score. It’s just create a vacuum, because I know if I go downhill a lot of people are just going to come at me and I have open players all around.
“But I just try to keep the defense honest, try to keep them on their heels.
Toussaint’s performance Wednesday was “what I expect of him and what he expects of himself,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “He’s really talented. He’s got great speed. He can get anywhere he wants to get on the floor.”
You can’t help but talk about Garza, Garza, Garza. Rutgers Coach Steve Pikiell said “I thought we actually did a good job on Garza. Then you look at 28 (points) and 13 (rebounds). That’s the kind of tear he’s on.
“He’s a problem. He’s a problem for a lot of people.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that if the National Player of the Year was chosen today, you’d be taxed to find someone who would get as many votes as Garza.
Here’s what else Garza did for this Rutgers game: He propped up Toussaint’s confidence beforehand.
“I had a talk with Luka,” Toussaint said. “He just told me as a freshman there are just a lot of ups and downs. And you can’t get too down on your downs and you can’t get too up on your highs. You’ve just got to stay levelheaded and just stay confident. No matter what, stay confident in yourself.
“You know that you’re a good player, and today was going to be my day. That’s exactly what he told me.”
Garza is from Washington, D.C., Toussaint from New York City. McCaffery does recruit, folks. What a pair he’s brought in from the East Coast, eh?
When he isn’t flexing his muscles after scoring, Garza is pumping up his point guard.
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“Coming into this game, I just kind of recognized this was the type of game that Joe was going to excel in,” Garza said.
“I told him that when we started scouting it. ‘This Rutgers game is where you’re going to go off.’ And I just kept saying that to him throughout the course of the couple days leading up to this game. Rutgers is a team that prides itself on pressuring guards and that’s what Joe T. feeds off.
“He’s from New York. He’s used to that. Nobody can do that to him. He’s been playing against that his whole life.”
Toussaint also has a security blanket on the court: Garza.
“I feel like every time I throw him the ball he’s going to score,” Toussaint said.
Rutgers undoubtedly felt the same way.
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