By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With the annual football showdown between Iowa and Iowa State having been canceled due to the global pandemic, Friday’s men’s basketball game, you could argue, had even more significance, and more meaning than usual.
It was the only chance in 2020 for the two instate rivals to compete for state bragging rights in the two highest-profile sports.
Fans got a taste of the instate rivalry on Tuesday when the Iowa women’s basketball team overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to defeat Iowa State 82-80 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
That game helped set the stage for Friday’s matchup, and it’s fair to say the men’s game didn’t quite match the women’s game from a competitive standpoint as third-ranked Iowa pulled away in the second half and prevailed 105-77 at a mostly empty Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa led by 10 points early in the first half, but then Iowa State seized the momentum, and the lead, with a 17-2 scoring run.
But then Iowa closed the first half on a 23-9 scoring run, and with Luka Garza on the bench for most of it with two fouls, and led 52-41 at halftime.
Fourth-year sophomore Jack Nunge helped fill the void for Garza in the first half by scoring 15 of his 17 points. The 6-foot-11 Nunge also had eight of his 10 rebounds in the first half.
“He was awesome,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Nunge. “I’ve been saying it for the fourth year now. The kid is really good. That’s what he does. He’s a terrific player. When Luka’s in foul trouble, somebody has to step up.”
Nunge was playing in his second game since the sudden and unexpected death of his father, Dr. Mark Nunge, at the age of 53.
The chance to play basketball helps Jack Nunge cope with the devastation, and he played the game he loves very well on Friday, serving notice once again that Iowa is hardly a solo act on offense with just Garza, although, the 6-11 Garza certainly had his moments in Friday’s game.
“I knew I needed to step up for our team (with Garza out),” Nunge said. “That’s kind of been our team mentality throughout the entire offseason.”
Garza dominated the second half, scoring 25 of his 34 points after halftime. He also scored 21 consecutive points for Iowa in the second half and only missed one of his 14 field-goal attempts while only playing 17 minutes.
Iowa played well for stretches without Garza in the first half, and then was dominant in the second half with Garza leading the way.
Senior guard Jordan Bohannon was held scoreless in the first half against Iowa State after having led Iowa with 24 points in the 93-80 victory over North Carolina on Tuesday, and yet, the Hawkeyes still led Iowa State by double figures at halftime on Friday.
Garza (13-for-14) , Nunge (7-for-9) and junior Joe Wieskamp (6-for-9) were a combined 26-of-32 from the field in Friday’s game, and combined for 67 points.
Iowa was favored by anywhere from 10 to 15 points against Iowa State, and the odds-makers usually know their stuff.
Even with Garza hampered by foul problems – he picked up his third foul early in the second half – it never felt that Iowa was in danger of losing.
Iowa State made a run after falling behind by 20 points in the second half, but 11 points was as close as the Cyclones would get.
Iowa improved to 5-0 and has a quick turnaround with Northern Illinois up next on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa has won four of the last five games against Iowa State, and the gap between the two teams seems as wide as it’s been for years, either way.
It feels as if Iowa and Iowa State could play 10 times, and that Iowa would win all 10 games, and that’s unusual for this rivalry.
That’s why you wonder what would happen if Iowa and Iowa State played each other in football this season.
It seems likely that the game would be much more competitive and interesting than the men’s basketball game was on Friday.
Iowa State has arguably its greatest football team in program history, which isn’t saying much for a program that never has won more than nine games in a season, or won a conference title since 1912, but it certainly says something.
Matt Campbell has turned the Cyclones into a legitimate Big 12 contender, whereas Iowa State men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm has a program moving in the wrong direction.