PHILADELPHIA — Luka Garza laid the blame for defeat at his own big feet Saturday, not something you often get from a basketball player who has scored 34 points.
Garza was 7 of 14 from the foul line in No. 23 Iowa’s 89-86 loss to No. 21 Penn State at the Palestra.
“It’s a combination of me missing free throws down the stretch — I’m really upset with myself. It’s not like me. I have to fix whatever I’m going through at the line.” Garza said.
“But I think also we weren’t getting back in our transition defense as well as we could have. We didn’t execute down the stretch the way we needed to.”
It was a lot of that “also” stuff. It was Penn State’s guards, led by sophomore Izaiah Brockington of Philadelphia, seizing opportunities caused by the Hawkeyes (10-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) not getting back after they scored, and also committing 15 turnovers to the Nittany Lions’ eight.
Penn State (12-2, 2-1) had 11 steals. That negated some of the damage done by Garza’s 34 points. He surely earned himself some All-America support from a new precinct Saturday.
When star forward Lamar Stevens picked up his third foul early in the second half, it looked like a good break for Iowa. Instead, it put more on Brockington’s shoulders, and he went to work with a 23-point game built on aggressiveness in transition.
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Brockington had help from his fellow guards. Curtis Jones had 16 points off the bench, and Myles Dread added 14. This isn’t the Penn State you’ve come to know and write off as a Big Ten also-ran.
“They just have more weapons,” Iowa Coach McCaffery said. “They’ve got a lot of different guys who can get 20.”
It wasn’t as if the Hawkeyes laid some sort of egg. This was a 40-minute tussle. It had 10 ties, 24 lead changes.
It’s fair to call it a heated battle, because it was really warm in the 93-year-old basketball cathedral. Unseasonably gentle weather here in January combined with a packed house to produce moisture galore on the court. Push mops and towels were put to use early and often, and even giant fans were hauled out and placed in baseline corners.
The heat, said Iowa guard Joe Wieskamp, “definitely played an effect on the game. I don’t know if I’ve ever sweated that much in my life.”
Wieskamp made half of his 10 3-point tries, scored 23 points, and had a season-high 10 rebounds. There was, however, a time in the first half when he slipped and turned the ball over, leading directly to a Penn State basket.
“I could definitely feel it toward the end,” Wieskamp said. “The moisture on my hands, the ball kind of slipping on my shot a little bit. So that was throwing me off. I was constantly having to wipe my hands, wipe my shoes.
“The court was getting really slick, so every time you drove or went for a rebound you were slipping. … It made it a little bit tough to play with that.”
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What may have hurt the Hawkeyes more was not having freshman guard CJ Fredrick in the second half, and not really having him at all. The 11-point-a-game player called it a day at halftime because of what McCaffery called an ankle/foot issue.
First-year freshman Joe Toussaint assumed even more than the additional role he had taken with the season-ending surgery to senior Jordan Bohannon. Toussaint, playing before a lot of family and friends from New York, had a career-high 18 points and much more poise than in his first start, against Cincinnati two weeks earlier.
“I really hate losing,” Toussaint said. “It’s good I’m progressing, but I’d rather progress and win at the same time. I don’t sit well with losses.”
Nor does Garza, who now averages 23.2 points and wore out Penn State at times.
“I don’t give anybody credit,” said Stevens, who had 16 points Saturday. “He’s good. He’s a good player.”
The two had played against each other when they were in high school, at a holiday tourney in Delaware.
“He was good then, but he’s even better now,” Stevens said. “He might be a pro.”
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