IOWA CITY, Iowa — Before Luka Garza had a chance to nod and smile and answer the pleasant questions tossed in his direction, the Iowa freshman center shook his head and looked toward the interview-room carpet.
Garza nearly was p erfect in his Iowa debut, and he paced the Hawkeyes to a 95-62 season-opening win against Chicago State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But there was one part of his game that made him wince, mostly because he’s so much better than he showed.
“At the free-throw line, geez,” Garza said unprompted Friday. “That’s just like uncharacteristic of me to miss that many. I’ll just keep working on my free throws. It’s no lack of confidence.”
Garza’s 4-of-8 performance from the free-throw line was like getting chocolate under your fingernail when you open a candy bar wrapper. It’s a minor inconvenience and quickly forgotten. The rest of Garza’s game was as sweet as the candy bar itself.
In only 18 minutes, the 6-foot-11 Garza hit all 6 shots from the field and totaled 16 points. He was only 3 points shy of the 19-point record posted by Aaron White (2011) and Dick Ives (1943) in their freshman debuts. It was a statistic Garza noticed when the team posted it on Twitter this week, but it wasn’t one of which he concerned himself as he rode the bench for the game’s final 15 minutes.
“I don’t know coach’s plan but in the back of my mind when we pushed the game up to 40, it was time to let everybody else play,” Garza said.
Garza added 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and an assist in 18 total minutes. He turned over the ball just once, which is rare for a center playing his first college game.
“That just tells you how efficient he has been,” Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon said. “He’s always real efficient, in the exhibition game as well. It kind of helps having that 5-man that we didn’t really have last year. He’s been doing well in practice and that’s obviously translated to tonight.”
Garza wasn’t the only Iowa freshman to make an impact against Chicago State. Forward Jack Nunge, who also stands 6-foot-11, scored 10 points, pulled down 4 rebounds, grabbed 4 steals and added an assist in 19 minutes. Nunge’s versatility at both ends of the floor immediately stands out. He’s an inside-outside threat on offense, and he can defend almost any position on defense. His savvy basketball skills belie his experience, which helped Nunge come up with those steals.
“Being able to play the 3 and stepping out on the wing, I could use my length a lot more,” he said. “You can read the guard’s eyes and you can help your guys in the corner, you can help down on the big, and the steal’s going to be there. So just go for it and use my length to my advantage.”
The maturity level of both players was not lost on coach Fran McCaffery.
“They have good court demeanor and they don’t get rattled,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They make plays at both ends. They’re not mistake guys. Against a small, quick team that was physical and switching, you have to have everybody make plays. Those guys can make plays for other people and off the dribble. So really impressive, those two guys.”
Iowa’s third scholarship freshman — guard Connor McCaffery — didn’t play after injuring his ankle in practice this week. It’s possible he could play Sunday against Alabama State, coach McCaffery said. Or, more likely, Connor McCaffery will play Thursday against Grambling State.
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