The atmosphere in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday was one I had not been in ever and one I hadn’t seen in a long time. A sellout crowd 15,056 rocked Iowa City for 2 hours as Iowa extracted revenge on Penn State by a final of 77-68.
Iowa rebounded from their 78-70 loss to Michigan State on Tuesday night in a big way. It also helped to have CJ Fredrick back in the lineup for the first time since Iowa played at Indiana back on February 13th.
“I felt good, a little tired at the start of the game, but I got my second wind and I was good from their,” Fredrick said.
Fredrick went four-of-eight from the field with a couple of threes to give Iowa a much-needed alternate scoring option outside Luka Garza and a struggling Joe Wieskamp.
For all of Wieskamp’s struggles, the sophomore guard still managed to pour in 13 points thanks to his aggressiveness in attacking the basket. Wieskamp poured in an early three, to which the Muscatine-native said really helped him get going.
“It felt good for sure, I obviously hoped I could’ve hit a few more, but I was taking good shots,” Wieskamp said. “I was making good moves, I was playing good defense, rebounding, doing everything I could to help us win and at some point those shots will fall.”
Fran McCaffery echoed his star shooting guards comments.
“I thought Joe played really well, he didn’t shoot it as well, he missed some shots he normally makes, but I thought he battled,” McCaffery said. “He made the four free throws that we needed, he got on the glass and he had 13 points.”
Iowa’s other main cog in Luka Garza struggled in the first half, but turned into the National Player of the Year-candidate everyone was accustomed to seeing in the second half.
Garza started the game 3-16 from the field an just seven points going up against two solid big men in Penn State’s John Harrar and Mike Watkins. Penn State head coach Pat Chambers thought his big guys did as good a job as they could on the future first-team All-American.
“I thought Mike and John, for the most part, did a noble job on him, for the most of the game,” Chambers said. “I hadn’t seen anyone block a shot from Luka all year until Mike did in the second half.”
The second half was the turning point as Iowa went on a 12-3 run in the first five minutes of the second half, which was led by the relentless play of Luka Garza, who was 8-for-12 from the field in the second half, including back-to-back, hope-crushing dunks to send Carver-Hawkeye Arena into a frenzy.
“I just refocused, the first half I was missing a lot of chippies, I’ve never missed so many shots in my life,” Garza said. “It was frustrating but I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I don’t let that bother me. I’m going to keep shooting the ball, I’m going to keep scoring no matter how many shots it takes me.”
Other big contributors in the game were guards Joe Toussaint and Connor McCaffery, while only scoring 8 combined points, the two poured in a total of 12 assists and one turnover.
Pat Chambers had some high praise for Connor McCaffery as well.
“The biggest difference for me is Connor McCaffery. Man, is he steady,” Chambers said. “He’s the rock that keeps everything together.”
Connor’s father, Fran, agreed with Chambers remarks about his eldest son.
“It’s a great feeling, but I think it’s something we all understand and appreciate from him,” McCaffery said. “He’s one of those guys, when things start going a little bit sideways, he’s the guy that they lean on in terms of making sure we’re in the right set, we’re in the right defense.”
The physicality of Iowa proved to be the will-breaker for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions frustration with perceived lack of whistles resulted in Jamari Wheeler and Mike Watkins receiving technical fouls, the latter coming as Penn State had just gave up a crucial three from Bakari Evelyn.
Physicality, along with the high decibel level from the sellout crowd in attendance, unraveled the Nittany Lions psyche and helped keep Iowa in position for a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
Iowa wraps up their home season with Purdue on Tuesday night with tip off at 8 P.M. KRUI Sports will broadcast from the game with pregame coverage beginning at 7:50 P.M.