IOWA CITY — The past two years, Luka Garza sometimes deferred to Tyler Cook as the main man inside for the Iowa basketball team.
Not anymore. Cook has moved on to the NBA and Garza showed Friday night in the Hawkeyes’ season opener that he’s ready to step into the spotlight as the main man.
The 6-foot-11 junior collected 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Hawkeyes showed improvement defensively in rolling to an 87-60 victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in their regular-season debut at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Joe Wieskamp added 16 points and the Hawkeyes also got a lift off the bench from Jordan Bohannon, but it was Garza who dominated the night.
“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around and that’s no exaggeration," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He never takes a possession off at either end. Now that he’s a junior, he has been through it all. He has a feel for everything around that is so much better."
Garza, who notched his sixth career double-double, admitted he feels the need to take control of games inside now that Cook is gone.
"It was great to play with TC and he taught me a lot," Garza said. "When he left, I knew the role was going to come to me. All those plays are coming to me a little more."
SIU-Edwardsville did not have a starter over 6-7 so the plan from the very beginning Friday was to funnel the ball into the post.
"We knew they were a little undersized so that was the plan," Wieskamp said. "Any time we can get the ball in to Luka, he’s going to finish or get fouled."
Garza ended up making 7 of 13 shots from the field, and he also shot 10 free throws, six more than the entire SIU-E team.
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McCaffery also praised his team’s defense, which showed improvement over a year ago.
The visiting Cougars shot just 41.9-percent from the field and the Hawkeyes committed only eight fouls in the process.
Iowa had only two games all of last season in which it held an opponent under 60 points, but SIU-E (1-1) needed a hot streak after the outcome had been decided to get to that point.
While Garza and Wieskamp were the only Iowa players in double figures, the Hawkeyes also got ninth points apiece from Bohannon, Ryan Kriener and freshman Joe Toussaint.
The Hawkeyes took the lead for good 2½ minutes into the contest but didn’t really shoot well early. That allowed the Cougars to cut the lead to 26-22 on a 3-point field goal by Kenyon Duling with a little more than four minutes remaining in the half.
Bohannon, working his way back into shape following off-season hip surgery, quickly countered with a 3 of his own from the left corner, triggering a 12-4 run to finish the half.
Bohannon sank a pair of free throws and assisted on a fast-break layup by CJ Fredrick and a 3 by Wieskamp during the stretch.
His teammates felt Bohannon started to look like the player they’ve grown accustomed to seeing during that stretch.
"He got in there and was all over that," Garza said. "He hit that 3 and got a couple of assists. Everyone knows we’re a better team when he’s out there."
That run gave Iowa a 38-26 cushion at the half, and they opened the second half with a 17-8 burst that pushed the lead beyond 20 points.
McCaffery also was very happy with what he saw from the 6-foot Toussaint, who nailed a pair of 3s in his college debut. The freshman admitted to being very nervous in the Hawkeyes’ exhibition game Monday but McCaffery saw none of that Friday.
"He fumbled that ball when he first got in there and a lot of times guys go sidewise after something like that," McCaffery said. "He didn’t."