By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Size is wonderful when your team has more of it and that was certainly the case on Friday for the Iowa men’s basketball team against Oral Roberts.
The Golden Eagles had no answer for 6-foot-11 junior center Luka Garza, who scored a career-high 30 points during an 87-74 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Sophomore forward Jack Nunge, who also stands 6-11, broke out of a two-game slump by scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Nunge had only scored two points in the first two games on two free throws.
Nunge told reporters on Wednesday that he just needed to see a shot go in the basket, but he missed his first shot in Friday’s game despite it being a layup.
But he stayed confident and didn’t hesitate on his second attempt as he swished a shot from 3-point range.
“It’s my first double-double,” Nunge said. “It feels good. But I think I can bring that to every game and try to get a lot more.”
Iowa improved to 2-1 with Friday’s victory, which came on the heels of a sobering 93-78 loss to DePaul this past Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as part of the Gavitt Games.
There was also some sobering news delivered after Friday’s game as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told the media that his son, 6-9 freshman forward Patrick McCaffery, is having some health issues that kept him from dressing for the game.
Patrick McCaffery had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid approximately five years ago, and Fran McCaffery said after Friday’s game that Patrick’s current issues are related to that.
“Patrick has got some residual health issues related to his previous illness,” Fran McCaffery said. “Nothing life threatening. Cancer’s not back or anything like that. But there are a lot of changes in his body that we are working through. We will take it day by day.”
Fran McCaffery said it's still too early to decide whether Patrick McCaffery will take a redshirt this season.
As for Friday’s game, Oral Roberts hang around for the most of the first half, but whenever Iowa needed a basketball, Garza was usually there to deliver against a team that didn’t have player taller than 6-8.
Garza and Nunge were both inserted back in the game after Oral Roberts had trimmed the deficit to 14 points in the second half, and Nunge quickly responded with an offensive rebound and a basket.
Garza made 12-of-19 field-goal attempts and also had 10 rebounds, two steals and one block.
“I tried to use my advantages and I think we moved the ball really well,” Garza said. “My teammates found me and I was able to just get a couple passes.”
Garza struggled to react against double teams in the DePaul game, so he made an effort in Friday’s game to improve in that regard.
“Tonight, we knew we had to get the ball inside and we knew they’d double, so I had to get deep post positions,” Garza said. “And that was just really my focus, to try and avoid the double team as much as I can so I can go right into my move without having to worry about it.
“And when they doubled, I think I did a better job of handling it. I think I was just showing progress.”
The Hawkeyes led almost from start to finish, including by double figures for much of the game, but they couldn’t put Oral Roberts away, much to the dismay of Fran McCaffery, who looked less than pleased in the closing minutes, especially after Garza missed a 3-point shot with about 18 seconds still left on the shot clock.
“Maybe the one mistake Garza made all night was the ill-advised three,” Fran McCaffery said.
Senior guard Jordan Bohannon showed signs that he is rounding into shape by making three 3-point baskets, including two from well beyond the arc. Bohannon, who had hip surgery in late May, finished with 11 points and was among five players for Iowa who scored in double figures.
Sophomore point guard Connor McCaffery also had a solid performance with 10 points, seven assists, two steals and just one turnover.
“I thought he did a really good tonight pushing the ball hard and fast because that’s really what we want him to do,” Fran McCaffery said of his other son on the team. “And he has the ability to do that.”
Iowa led by double figures for much of the first half, including 55-40 at the break.
Garza led Iowa in scoring in the first half with 18 points, while Nunge and Connor McCaffery had 10 and nine points, respectively.
Iowa now has almost a week to prepare for its next game against North Florida next Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.