By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – After an ice cold start, the Iowa men’s basketball team heated up and pulled away from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville to win its ninth consecutive season opener 87 – 60 on Friday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Head coach Fran McCaffery is now 9-1 in season openers at Iowa and joined Tom Davis as the only Iowa coaches in school history to surpass the 10-year mark.
The Hawkeyes started just 1-for-8 from three-point range but hit three of their next four from beyond the arc to secure a 38-26 halftime lead.
Iowa went to junior center Luka Garza early and often to try to alleviate its outside shooting woes and take advantage of the size mismatch it had in the paint.
The 6-foot-11 Garza led all scorers with 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting, along with 12 rebounds.
“We really followed the game plan,” Garza said. “We wanted to get the ball inside. We knew we had an advantage, so we wanted to get me, Jack (Nunge) or Ryan (Kriener) and drive the ball in there. I think we did a really good job of that.
“I was just able to be put in great positions by my teammates who got me the ball. When they put me in those positions, I’m going to find a way to score.”
Garza’s work ethic has never been in question, he’s simply a wily veteran now, according to his head coach.
“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around,” McCaffery said. “That’s no exaggeration. He never takes a possession off on either end. Now that he’s a junior he’s been through it all.
“His feel for everything around him is so much better, and he was pretty good when he got here. He had a freshman year unlike most people. We’re throwing him the ball. He’s going to make a play one way or the other. He gets to the free throw line. We can run our offense through him.”
Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp added 16 points on 50 percent shooting.
Iowa came out firing in the second half, jumped to a 55-34 lead with just under 14 minutes left to play and never looked back.
Freshman guard Joe Toussaint also provided a spark on offense in his Hawkeye debut.
The Bronx native chipped in the first nine points of his Hawkeye career on 3-for-5 shooting in 15 minutes.
Toussaint had a hiccup on his first possession in which he bobbled a pass that was stolen.
The 6-foot Toussaint answered right back on Iowa’s next possession and knocked in his first career points on a corner three pointer.
“Just being confident (was key),” Toussaint said. “Just having confidence in myself, believing in myself. And that’s what I did, I stayed true to myself. That was a minor mistake I made and I knew I had to make it up.”
The Hawkeyes host DePaul on Monday night at 7 p.m.
The Hawkeyes were without junior forward Cordell Pemsl due to suspension.
The 6-foot-9, 248-pound Pemsl played in just two games last season before sitting out the remainder due to injury.