Iowa withstands Penn State’s upset bid as Luka Garza makes history
Iowa's senior center scores 23 points to break Roy Marble's career scoring mark that stood for 32 years
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Unfortunately, some milestone moments don’t get what they deserve.
That’s what I kept thinking as Iowa All-America senior center Luka Garza moved closer and closer to breaking Roy Marble’s career scoring record during Sunday’s 74-68 victory over Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Garza only needed 14 points to break the record, so the big question coming into Sunday’s game is whether he’d do it in the first half or in the second half.
The answer proved to be the second half as a pesky Penn State squad gave Iowa, and Garza, everything it could handle.
The Nittany Lions erased a 13-point deficit in the first half and led 41-36 at the break.
The score was even at 54 when Garza cut to the basket and caught a pass from senior point guard Jordan Bohannon for an easy bank shot with 8 minutes, 18 seconds left to play.
So with the record finally out of the way, the drama shifted to whether Garza’s milestone moment would happen in a fourth consecutive win, or in a deflating loss against a decisive underdog.
Garza and his cohorts rose to the occasion as Iowa went on a 13-4 scoring run to seize the momentum, and then hung on at the end.
The Washington D.C. native led three Iowa players with 23 points and has now scored 2,126 points as a Hawkeye.
Garza and Marble are the only Iowa players to score at least 2,000 points.
Garza might have been feeling the pressure when he stepped to the free throw line with a chance to break the record, but then shot an air ball. He told the media afterwards that he had never shot an air ball from the free throw line.
“I’ve never air balled a free throw in my life,” Garza said. “I think it was miracle the first one went in. I was very surprised. Neither of them felt good, I was just thinking about them too much.”
It would make sense if Garza felt some pressure because what he accomplished on Sunday is truly special. It’s the kind of achievement that rarely happens.
The only downside to Sunday’s history-making event, besides Iowa’s defensive performance in the first half, is that Roy Marble and about 15,000 Hawkeye fans weren’t there to see it.
Marble passed away from cancer in 2015 at the age of 48, while the COVID-19 global pandemic has kept all but just a handful of fans from attending games this season.
And while not being able to attend a sporting event in person is a small price to pay during a global pandemic, you still feel for Garza because he deserved to have a packed arena cheering for him, and you feel especially sad for Marble because he deserved more time in life.
“I’m a big basketball fan, so I like to know the history of everywhere I’m at in terms of basketball,” Garza said. “So, obviously that was the first name I heard. I’ve known and researched so much about Iowa basketball history, especially when I was getting recruited. I knew who Roy Marble was and how good he was, how great of a person he was, how great of a teammate he was. So, it’s truly an honor to even be in the same sentence as a guy like that. To pass him is something I never could have dreamed about.”
It would’ve been so cool to watch Marble and Garza embrace at mid-court after the record was broken, and to have had a packed arena cheering them on.
If any player deserved the support of his fans, it’s Luka Garza for how he has conducted himself on and off the court as a Hawkeye.
“We’ve grown used to having no fans over the course of the season,” Garza said. “We’re 23 games in, so we know what it feels like to not have fans out there. Obviously, I would have loved to have been in front of Hawkeye nation and a packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But, for me, the most important thing about today was getting the win.”
Garza’s impact goes way beyond his amazing statistics.
His work ethic, his team-first mentality, and his respect for Fran McCaffery all help to make the 6-foot-11 Garza the ultimate teammate.
Garza is a dominant scorer, but he does most of his scoring within the framework of the offense. He never hunts for shots, and rarely takes a questionable shot.
“I just told him I loved him,” Fran McCaffery said. “I appreciate him as our leader. Every game you just become more and more impressed with how he goes about his business and the example he sets for everyone in that locker room, for everyone that’s going to come behind him. He makes everyone that came before proud. It was really simple. I just told him I loved him, I’m proud of him, but we’re not done.”
But even with all of his points, Garza is hardly a solo act.
Iowa probably wouldn’t have hung on to win Sunday without C.J. Fredrick scoring 18 points, and without Joe Wieskamp scoring nine points during an early stretch in the second half.
Garza was honored after Sunday’s victory with a video on the big screen in which former Iowa players, and his father, congratulated him for his achievement.
If only Roy Marble could have participated in that special moment.
Marble’s acrobatic playing style was much different than how Garza plays, but the results are the same.
I can honestly say that I never expected to see Roy Marble’s scoring record broken during my time on the Iowa beat. The record had stood for 32 years, and 2,116 points is a lot of points.
I knew it would take somebody with incredible durability and toughness, a soft shooting touch, a motor that never stops, and a willingness to stay the course in college.
Luka Garza checks all those boxes, and then some.
He is a shining example of what can happen from hard work, and from being surrounded by the right people, at home, and in college.
Garza is certainly lucky to have grown to almost 7-feet, and to have a father who has dedicated much of his life to helping his son achieve greatness in basketball.
Iowa fans are also lucky that Luka Garza chose to be a Hawkeye.
He will now take the court against Big Ten leader Michigan on Thursday in Ann Arbor, Mich., as Iowa’s all-time leading scorer.
The fact that Garza has scored most of his points against Big Ten competition makes what he has accomplished even more impressive.
Garza is proof that good things happen to good people who work hard, who don’t cut corners and who respect the game.