Jalen Suggs, top-ranked Gonzaga too much for third-ranked Iowa
Freshman points guard scores 27 points in 99-88 victory in Sioux Falls
By Pat Harty
Fran McCaffery was among the very first coaches from a Power 5 conference to offer Jalen Suggs a scholarship.
McCaffery also recruited Suggs perhaps harder than any other coach, according to what Suggs has said before about his recruitment.
Hawkeye fans, and the nation, saw why on Saturday as Suggs, a remarkably gifted 6-foot-4 freshman point guard from Minneapolis, led top-ranked Gonzaga to a 99-88 victory over third ranked Iowa at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Bulldogs showed little effects from an extended layoff that was caused by COVID-19 health concerns, breaking open a close game about midway through the first half and then withstanding a late rally by the Hawkeyes.
Iowa All-American center Luka Garza had his typical stat line, finishing with 30 points and 10 rebounds, but this time, he just didn’t have enough help on offense, especially from his backcourt, as Iowa lost for the first time in seven games this season.
Suggs was incredible in the first half, scoring 18 points and making all but one of his five 3-point shots as the Zags shredded Iowa’s sieve-like defense.
“Coming into this weekend I really felt like my jump shot improved. I felt really comfortable with it,” Suggs said. “Yesterday at shootaround I was telling everybody it’s a shooter’s gym. It feels really good in here. I just came out today confident.”
Suggs also played suffocating defense on Iowa senior guard Jordan Bohannon throughout the game. Bohannon only scored two points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field, and he also had four turnovers while playing just 24 minutes.
Iowa struggled big time with transition defense, which has been a problem for this specific group of players.
Gonzaga built an 18-point lead in the first half, and led 51-37 at halftime.
The Bulldogs also had a 22-14 rebounding advantage in the first half, along with five steals.
Gonzaga was clearly the better team in the first half in virtually every part of the game; defense, offense, transition, you name it, and the Zags had the advantage.
It takes 40 minutes and two halves to win a basketball game, however, and with Iowa’s ability to score points in a hurry, and with Garza controlling the paint, a second-half comeback didn’t seem out of the question.
And while it never felt that Gonzaga’s lead was in jeopardy, Iowa did cut a 20-point deficit to single digits in the second half.
A bright spot for Iowa was the play of sophomore point guard Joe Toussaint, whose quickness allowed him to repeatedly get into the lane and make plays, either for himself, or for a teammate.
Toussaint scored 14 points, including 12 in the second half, and had two assists and one steal.
But with Bohannon, and sophomore guard C.F. Fredrick and junior guard Connor McCaffery combining to score just 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field, Iowa just didn’t have enough offensive firepower to keep pace with the Zags.
Junior Joe Wieskamp had a solid around game for Iowa, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds.
So together, Wieskamp and Garza combined to score 50 points, and yet, Iowa still lost by 11 points.
It just shows that Iowa needs so much more than just Garza, and one other starter playing well, to prevail in games of this magnitude.
Saturday’s loss also showed just how impactful the 3-point shot is on the Iowa offense. Iowa only made 4-of-22 3-point shots against Gonzaga after having torched North Carolina for 17 treys during a 93-80 victory on Dec. 8 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Bohannon made seven treys against North Carolina, partly because he was wide open on many of them.
But against Gonzaga, and more specifically against Suggs, open looks were few and far between And on the rare occasion when Bohannon had an open look, he missed.
Iowa also struggled from the free throw line, making just 14-of-26 attempts. Against a team like Gonzaga, that is just asking for trouble, especially if your guards also are struggling from 3-point range.
“I thought for the most part, with exception of one or two where I thought we were contested, I thought we moved it and took open shots,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “Good shooters shooting open shots.
“To (Gonzaga’s) credit, they made their threes. We were behind a lot of the game, and that happens sometimes. You miss a couple, and then you miss some more. Our main success was driving the ball and throwing it inside.”
Teams have to sort of pick their poison when defending against Iowa. North Carolina made defending Garza in the paint a priority, while leaving open looks on the perimeter, of which Iowa took advantage.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few appears to have made defending the 3-point shot a bigger priority in Saturdays’ game.
Few spoke highly of Garza afterwards, but Few also made it clear that limiting Iowa from 3-point range was a priority.
“He’s a handful,” Few said of the 6-11 Garza. “He’s a wonderful, wonderful player. He about fouled our whole team out. We were going through our usual post coverages that we have or bringing doubles from different areas.
“But then also we were very concerned about their three-point shooters and just giving those guys open looks out there.”
The Iowa players won’t have time to dwell on Saturday’s missed opportunity with Purdue coming to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday for the Big Ten opener.
And that could be a good thing, get back up the horse and embrace the next opportunity.
As for Bohannon, he’s bounced back many times before, and will do it again.
This was just one game in December, albeit a big game, but still just one game.
The Iowa players have to keep making wise decisions with regard to dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic, and they have to move on from this sobering defeat because Big Ten play is about to start.
Iowa has a veteran squad and that experience should be beneficial coming off this kind of loss.