Hot shooting and quality play from freshmen had the Iowa Hawkeyes at 3-0 as they headed to the Caribbean this week for the Cayman Islands Basketball Classic (before dropping the opener against Louisiana).
The Hawkeyes took down Grambling State, 85-74, on Thursday thanks in part to a huge effort from true freshmen and big men Luka Garza and Jack Nunge.
Though Nunge would have seen significant playing time regardless, the 6-foot-11 freshman from Indiana has undoubtedly seen increased minutes off the bench with the absence of Nicholas Baer, who is sidelined with a broken pinkie finger.
Against Grambling State, Nunge knocked down 6-of-8 shots, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc to finish with 17 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes.
"He's is comfortable out there with what position he's in," head coach Fran McCaffery told HawkeyeSports. "He plays the way it should be played. He doesn't try to do what he can't do, he knows what he's good at, he knows his teammates and our offense. He takes advantage of his size."
Garza, a starter in his first season in Iowa City, has provided the Hawkeyes with more of a post presence for the Hawkeyes averaging 13.3 points and 9.0 rebounds with eight blocks in just three contests.
However, the freshmen are not the lone bright spots for Iowa. Though early in the season, the Hawkeyes are hitting most of their shots with nine players shooting more than 50 percent from the field. As a team, the Hawkeyes are hitting at a 53 percent clip — fourth-highest in the Big Ten.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Moss also has been exceptional from beyond the arc shooting 53 percent from beyond the arc — sixth in the Big Ten — while leading the team with 13.7 points per game. The Hawkeyes’ 43 percent from 3-point range leads the conference.
This is the second consecutive season where freshmen have played a major role for McCaffery’s squad. Last season, Moss, Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon, Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener were the newbies and each provided sparks for the Hawkeyes in their first seasons and accounted for most of the offense for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are currently playing in the Caymans for three games and will face South Dakota State today after losing 71-80 to Louisiana. The Championship game and consolation games will take place on Wednesday.
Following the Caymans Basketball Classic, Iowa travels to Virginia Tech on Nov. 28 for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before opening up conference play with Penn State and Indiana.