IOWA CITY — There’s no substitute for winning, and there would have been no winning without the substitutes.
The No. 8 Iowa men’s basketball team had its bench carry it to an 84-78 win over Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Tuesday night to end a two-game losing streak. The Hawkeyes (13-4, 7-3 Big Ten) used reserves Patrick McCaffery, Keegan Murray, Jack Nunge, Tony Perkins and Joe Toussaint for much of the game’s last 12 minutes, and for quite a bit of the first half, as well.
Nunge, Perkins and Toussaint had season-highs in minutes. The reserves combined for 39 points and played much of Iowa’s best defense.
“The bench was huge tonight,” said Iowa center Luka Garza. “I’m so proud of those guys.”
Garza, unlike Iowa’s other four starters, didn’t sit much. He had 27 points and 12 rebounds in 35 minutes, and drew a dozen fouls as Iowa shot 35 free throws to MSU’s 15. He topped the 2,000-point career mark, trailing only Roy Marble’s 2,116 on Iowa’s all-time list.
But Garza wanted the win, not the points-o-meter flip into the 2000s.
“I didn’t come back to score points,” he said. “I came back to win games.
“To be able to close one out when we didn’t even play our best is huge for our confidence going forward.”
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said “If we played this way (in other games this season), we would have won a lot of games.
“I thought we were going to win the game.”
Led by Nunge’s 11 points and seven rebounds before halftime, Iowa’s subs helped erase a 26-15 deficit caused largely by the Spartans making their first six 3-point tries. The Hawkeyes rallied to assume a 48-43 halftime lead, with the last two points scored by another reserve, freshman guard Ahron Ulis.
Iowa pushed its lead up to eight points, but MSU’s 12-2 run gave it a 61-59 lead and Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery again turned to his bench. The subs and Garza got the Hawkeyes a 79-70 lead with 3:38 left. The Spartans closed within 80-78 with 1:21 left, but starter Jordan Bohannon, who re-entered with Joe Wieskamp with 1:56 left, sank all four of his free throws for the game’s final points.
Toussaint had one of his best games of the season with 10 points and six assists. He and Perkins helped shut off the Spartans’ 3-point spigot. Patrick McCaffery, Murray and Nunge continued to help Garza take care of matters close to the basket.
“Me and Jack, we don’t really view ourselves as bench players to be honest with you,” Toussaint said. “We started last year and he started before I got here. And nobody on the bench views himself as a bench player. … We’re just another player who comes in, you know.”
Iowa got out-rebounded 42-38, missed a dozen free throws, and was just 5-of-17 from 3-point distance. But it shot 50 percent from the field and had a season-low five turnovers.
Guard CJ Fredrick returned to Iowa’s lineup after being out the last game-and-a-half with a leg issue, but was ineffective.
“I feel terrible for CJ,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s clearly not himself. We’ll get him right,” Fran McCaffery said.
The coach said there was no plan to go with his subs as long as he did, but the lineup “just clicked.”
Iowa may need more clicking across the roster in its next game. The Hawkeyes host No. 7 Ohio State Thursday at 6 p.m.
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