Iowa Men's Basketball

Palestra hostile to Iowa Hawkeyes, but they liked it

Iowa players obviously didn't enjoy losing, but they liked Philly's fabled gym

Penn State's' staff wipes down the Palestra's court during the second half of the Nittany Lions' 89-86 men's basketball
Penn State’s’ staff wipes down the Palestra’s court during the second half of the Nittany Lions’ 89-86 men’s basketball win over Iowa Saturday in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

PHILADELPHIA — You can’t be blamed for wondering if Iowa would have beaten Penn State in men’s basketball Saturday were the game played at PSU’s Bryce Jordan Center.

The Palestra had to be worth three points to the Nittany Lions in their 89-86 victory. Their home court was 193 miles west in State College, but this felt like home and more to the 21st-ranked Lions.

They wanted to play a game in Philadelphia’s Palestra this season, and found a willing partner in Iowa’s Fran McCaffery. How could he say no, and why would he? He called the old and storied gym his home for four years when the played for the Penn Quakers in his Philly hometown.

Instead of this being in a half-empty Jordan Center, it was in a packed, loud, moist Palestra, home of 93 years of Philadelphia college basketball memories.

About the moist part: It was nice walking-around weather in Philadelphia this weekend, especially for the first weekend in January. That, combined with the packed house, made for humidity and condensation. Push mops and towels were used aplenty on the court.

The heat affected the players in more than just slippage.

“I was pretty tired,” said Iowa’s Luka Garza, who scored 34 points and collared 12 rebounds. “I was exhausted a little bit, and I’m confident in my shape.”

Penn State forward Lamar Stevens, a Philadelphian who got to play here as a freshman and asked Lions Coach Pat Chambers to try to get another Palestra game for his senior season, asked to come out of the game late in the first half because he was spent.

So, the humidity and slipperiness weren’t kind, to either team. All in all, however, the Hawkeyes had a wonderful time here … other than the loss. Playing in this arena resonated with Garza, who is from Washington, D.C., and had family and friends here.

“It was incredible to play in that atmosphere,” Garza said. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s one of the most-coveted arenas in all of college basketball, especially for me growing up on the East Coast.”

This wasn’t an Ivy League game in the old gym with a pep band providing all the off-court entertainment. Penn State must have brought its entire audio-visual department, with music and scoreboard videos maxed out on the volume scale during all breaks in the action.

The pure sound of basketball fans roaring was all the game needed to be headache-inducing loud down the stretch. The fans didn’t do the Nittany Lions any harm in their quest to rally from a seven-point deficit with 9:30 left to knock off a fellow ranked team.

Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp scored 23 points in what he called a hostile environment, but “a fun environment to play in. You can really feel the energy.”

This was some of the old Iowa Field House, some of arenas the way they once were at so many big schools. This was intimate. Meaning, it was cramped. This was a wall of sound.

And, the basketball was good, worthy of being an afternoon in the Palestra’s rich history.

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

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