SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In early December, Gonzaga paused all activities because of the coronavirus. The top-ranked Bulldogs had five games canceled due to the shutdown, and hadn’t played a game since Dec. 2 before Saturday’s showdown with No. 3 Iowa.
Despite the layoff, Gonzaga showed little rust in a 99-88 victory over the Hawkeyes. That seemed especially true for freshman Jalen Suggs who scored 18 of his career-high 27 points in the first half to lead the Bulldogs.
Suggs entered the game against Iowa averaging 13.3 points per game. He blew by that midway through the first half and finished 8 for 17 from the floor and was 7 for 10 from the 3-point line after going just 2 for 6 from beyond the arc on Gonzaga’s first three games. His previous career high was 24 against Kansas on Nov. 26.
“This past week-and-a-half, I spent a lot of time in the gym by myself, just late at night spending time getting shots up under the gun,” Suggs said. “Coming into this weekend, I really felt like my jump shot improved and I felt really comfortable with it. I was telling everybody that this was a shooter’s gym. It feels really good in here and I just came out today really confident.”
Drew Timme added 15 points and Joel Ayai added 11 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds for Gonzaga (4-0).
Luka Garza led Iowa (6-1) with 30 points and 10 rebounds on 13 of 18 shooting. Joe Wieskamp added 20 points and nine rebounds for the Hawkeyes.
Gonzaga used a 24-10 run to open things up in the first half. Suggs scored 10 points during the run and Gonzaga continued to pour it on in the first half, building the lead to as many as 18 on a Suggs 3-pointer with just under two minutes to play. The Bulldogs shot 58% from the floor in the first half.
While Gonzaga was cruising, Iowa went cold from the field. The Hawkeyes went nearly five minutes without a field goal in the first half. The Hawkeyes entered the game averaging nearly 12 made 3-pointers per game. Against Gonzaga, they were just 4 for 22.
“I didn’t expect to shoot 4 for 22,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We’ve got really good shooters, but I thought for the most part with the exception of one or two where we were contested, we had good shooters shooting open shots. We were behind a lot of the game and that happens sometimes.
“You miss a couple, then you miss some more. Our main success was driving the ball and throwing it inside. We got into the double bonus relatively early in the second half, but then we miss 12 free throws, which is also very uncharacteristic of our team.”
Iowa seemed to have one last gasp midway through the second half. After a Garza basket cut the deficit to 14, the limited number of Iowa fans in the building cheered as the Hawkeyes broke a timeout. A three-point play by Jack Nunge out of the timeout cut it to 81-71, and the Pentagon came to life as the Hawkeyes eyed a comeback.
The Hawkeyes got the deficit down to nine with two minutes to play after trailing by as many as 20 when Aaron Cook scored to make it 71-51 with just over 13 minutes to play.
HE SAID IT
“It’s great to hear, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on the here and now and continuing to win and build with my guys,” Suggs said when asked about the NBA and being the potential No. 1 pick. “The coaching staff has done a great job of keeping me grounded and helping me keep the outside noise out. Whatever happens in the future happens, but right now I’m locked in with my guys.”
Iowa’s Joe Toussaint played a big role in Iowa’s surge in the second half. The sophomore came off the bench and scored a career high 14 points, nine in the second half.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs finally found their range from the outside, going 13 for 26 from the 3-point line. Entering the game, Gonzaga was just 16 for 55 from beyond the arc in its first three games.
Iowa: The 99 points scored by Gonzaga is the most Iowa has given up this season. The previous opponent high against the Hawkeyes was 80 against No. 16 North Carolina on Dec. 8. They gave up 104 last year against Purdue.
Gonzaga: hosts Northwestern State on Monday.
Iowa: opens Big Ten play when they host Purdue on Tuesday.