By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – What was supposed to be the third consecutive forgone conclusion for the Iowa men’s basketball team unfolded much differently on Thursday.
The Hawkeyes needed a late scoring run to withstand Grambling State’s upset bid 85-74 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa was trailing 59-56 when sophomore guard Isaiah Moss made a 3-point basket with 10 minutes 46 seconds left to play.
His basket from the right baseline triggered a 14-0 scoring run that proved to be difference in a game that was expected to be similar to Iowa’s blowout wins over Chicago State and Alabama State in the first two games.
“It was big,” Moss said of his trey. “I noticed they sagged off me. “I wasn’t going to shoot it, but I heard someone say shoot, so I shot it.”
Iowa entered the game ranked 50th in the KenPom rankings, while Grambling State was ranked 346th, although, it was hard to tell on Thursday as the Tigers made 10 3-point baskets and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds against a much taller opponent..
“We just had a lot of defensive breakdowns and they were knocking down open threes, but we were giving them open threes,” said Iowa freshman center Luka Garza. “We under-estimated them, for sure, and they came out and played hard. Give credit to them, they played a great game.”
Garza was among five Iowa players who scored in double figures with 13 points, including 11 in the second half.
Fellow freshman Jack Nunge led Iowa in scoring with 17 points on a 6-of-8 shooting from the field. The 6-foot-11 Nunge also made 3-of-5 shots from 3-point range and used his length on defense to cause problems for Grambling State.
Nunge played 27 minutes, which was the most for any Iowa reserve.
“He kept me playing because I was doing pretty good,” Nunge said of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “I think my length on defense is good for us. And I think coach has that confidence in me.”
Nunge didn’t agree with Garza about under-estimating Grambling State, which fell to 0-2 on the young season.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Nunge said. “They came out from the get go and they were ready to play. All credit to them. They were hustling and they were trying to get all the offensive boards and every loose ball. So I would just say that they played a great game.”
Grambling State made 10-of-24 3-point baskets and also assisted on 19 of its 29 baskets.
“I’d say we lacked a little bit of communication on the defensive end and they were knocking down shots and that’s to their credit,” Nunge said. “We thought they were going to be more drive and slashing, but they were hitting their outside threes and we’ve got to adjust to that.”
Iowa improved to 3-0 and will face Louisiana in the first game in the Cayman Islands Classic next Monday. The winner of that game will then face the winner of the game between Wyoming and South Dakota State.
Iowa will play three games in three days in the Cayman Islands.
“It’s a really strong field, so you’re know you’re going to play three good teams and play three good games,’ said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “And it’ll really test our depth, three games in three days. But I think that’s the challenge that all of us look forward to this time of year.”
Iowa won't play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena again until hosting Penn State in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 2.
Connor McCaffery update: The official debut of freshman guard Connor McCaffery was pushed back again as he missed his third consecutive game on Thursday. The son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery missed the first two games because of a sprained ankle, but he also has since been diagnosed with mononucleosis.
"When I met with you guys the other day, they had tested him for it, but we didn't know if he had it or not," Fran McCaffery said. "We didn't find out until about midway through practice (on Thursday) that he had it. So he's really sick."
Fran McCaffery said Connor is suffering from ear aches, swollen glands and is having difficulty swallowing.
"He feels terribie," Fran McCaffery said. "I feel bad for him. He'll be better in a couple weeks and his ankle will be fully healed by then. We'll take the time. He would have played tonight on the ankle, but he probably wouldn't have been 100 percent, either."