Iowa Basketball: Bench contributions propel Hawkeyes past Michigan State

The Iowa Hawkeyes couldn’t have defeated Michigan State without some strong performances from key role players on Tuesday night.

It wasn’t pretty, but the No. 8 ranked Iowa basketball team (13-4) managed to hold on for an 84-78 victory over the Michigan State Spartans (8-7) on Tuesday evening at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

On a night when four of Iowa’s five starters combined for just 18 points, the Hawkeyes were saved by their bench.

Thanks to some impressive performances from forward Jack Nunge and guard Joe Toussaint, the Hawkeyes were able to come back from down 11 points in the first half, rallying to a 48-43 halftime lead.

Nunge finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, while Toussaint contributed 10 points and six assists. Each played over 20 minutes. In fact, Toussaint played more minutes (21) than starting point guard Jordan Bohannon (20).

It wasn’t just Nunge and Toussaint who played major factors, either. Three true freshmen stepped up for the Hawkeyes with some big minutes.

Freshmen Keegan Murray and Tony Perkins logged 15 and 13 minutes, respectively. Freshman Ahron Ulis was on the court for three minutes and grabbed a pivotal rebound off a Luka Garza miss at the end of the first half. Ulis then was fouled and made both of his free throws.

As is tradition, Garza led all scorers with 27 points. He eclipsed 2,000 career points in the process, becoming only the second Iowa player to do so.

But despite another strong performance from Garza, Iowa needed other role players to step up. And because of that, the Hawkeyes found out tonight just how good their depth really is.

Against a beatable Michigan State team at home, Iowa didn’t lie down and give up when they faced a double-digit deficit early on. Instead, coach Fran McCaffery placed faith in his young players off the bench, which paid off massively. In the end, Iowa’s bench contributed 39 of the team’s 84 points.

While it’s unlikely the Hawkeyes’ bench will have that many points every game, it’s also unlikely that Iowa’s starters will have similar struggles going forward. Either way, it’s nice to know Iowa’s depth is capable of picking up the slack.