It was a lineup that looked unusual, yet given how the night went, it was a perfect way for Iowa to close out a win that belonged to its bench.
The final minutes of the 84-78 victory over Michigan State on Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena featured players like freshmen Keegan Murray and Tony Perkins, sophomore Joe Toussaint, and sophomore Jack Nunge.
It was a night that belonged to them.
“Nobody on the bench thinks of us as just being bench players,” said Toussaint, a starter for much of last season. “We’re just other players who come in. Just having that confidence coming into the game, that’s a thing we hold for each other.”
Iowa’s bench contributed 39 points and 19 of the Hawkeyes’ 38 rebounds. Iowa had just five turnovers, but only one came from the reserves.
Nunge had 12 points, 11 in the first half. Toussaint finished with 10.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at a stat sheet and seen 39 bench points,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s incredible.
“We just have a team that can go deep in the bench and get productivity. We got rebounds, we got points, we got solid play, like no turnovers.”
Senior center Luka Garza wasn’t surprised. Garza remembered when he was a freshman — he would start, but sometimes he wouldn’t be around at the end.
“Coach has always been like that,” Garza said. “If somebody’s playing well, playing better than a starter, they’re going to play. I think we have a really unselfish group. We want to win games. It’s a lot about who’s going, who’s not going.”
The Hawkeyes, who were beginning a stretch of three games in six days, went 11 deep, and everyone did something. All of those who played scored and grabbed at least one rebound. More than 89 minutes belonged to the bench.
“Give them credit, they just kept throwing people at us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They just threw guard after guard after guard, and wore us down.”
Usually it’s the Spartans who grind the Hawkeyes. They had won five consecutive games in the series, and 19 of the last 22.
Michigan State, down 79-70 with 3:37 to play, went on an 8-1 run and had a chance to tie the game, but Joshua Langford’s six-foot jumper toured the rim before falling into the hands of Garza. The Hawkeyes closed the win with four free throws from Jordan Bohannon.
Garza, the nation’s leading scorer at 26.4 points per game, scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
He became the second 2,000-point scorer in program history. Garza, who has 2,009 points, is 107 points behind all-time leading scorer Roy Marble. Garza also now has 810 career rebounds.
“I think it feels better that it came with a win,” Garza said. “I’m not a huge stat guy. I’m not all of that. I’m just glad we got a win.”
Garza frustrated the Spartans, like he has so many other teams, to beat them for the first time in his career. Michigan State was called for 28 fouls, and Garza drew 12 of them.
It frustrated Izzo, who said, “I didn’t appreciate some of the calls.”
“They just drove us and went to the free-throw line,” Izzo said. “Jump into you, drive you, foul you, foul you. Every time you touched the big guy, there was a foul. I didn’t appreciate that. But, we’ve got to do a better job, so I have to do a better job.”
The Hawkeyes snapped a two-game skid, staying close to Big Ten leader Michigan. They get No. 7 Ohio State at home on Thursday, then go to Indiana for a Sunday game.
“I think our team, we know every game in the Big Ten game is critical for the rest of the season,” Garza said. “I think everyone is taking every single game seriously. We obviously know this is a big stretch for us.”
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