Jack Nunge excels in return to the court, serves as inspiration for Hawkeyes

The redshirt sophomore scored 18 points off the bench in the first game since his father’s death.

Iowa+forward+Jack+Nunge+throws+the+ball+to+a+teammate+during+the+Iowa+v.+Western+Illinois+basketball+game+in+Carver-Hawkeye+Arena+on+Thursday%2C+Dec.+3%2C+2020.+Iowa+defeated+Western+Illinois+with+a+final+score+of+99-58.

Katie Goodale

Iowa forward Jack Nunge throws the ball to a teammate during the Iowa v. Western Illinois basketball game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Iowa defeated Western Illinois with a final score of 99-58.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


Jack Nunge’s return to the court Thursday night came at a time when he and his family needed basketball as a diversion.

Dr. Mark Nunge, Nunge’s father, died suddenly at the age of 53 on Nov. 21, four days prior to Iowa’s season opener. Jack Nunge missed Iowa’s first two games of the season while back home with his mother and four siblings in Newburgh, Indiana.

“It’s been really difficult,” Nunge said postgame. “But my mom is strong, my family is strong, my siblings are all strong, and we’re going to get through this. Being able to play a game gave them a distraction for a night. And that’s really good for my family.”

Between missing the early stretch of the season and tearing his ACL in Iowa’s fifth game last year, Nunge hadn’t appeared in a basketball game in over a year prior to taking the floor at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday night in the team’s 99-58 victory over Western Illinois.

But he excelled in his first game back.

The redshirt sophomore scored a career-best 18 points (8-of-11 shooting) and collected five rebounds off the bench in the Hawkeye victory. After missing his first two shots of the night, Nunge hit eight in a row from the floor.

When Nunge checked in at the 15:54 mark of the first half following the game’s first media timeout, the nearly empty stands at Carver surely would have met his return with a standing ovation had COVID-19 not impacted attendance.

“It was just so incredible to see,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “And I knew it was going to happen… He can stretch the floor and makes 3’s. His length is effective defensively. He affects the game in so many different ways. To see him come out and get 18 points, it’s just an amazing feeling as a coach. I’m so thrilled for Jack and for his family.”

Nunge returned to Iowa City Tuesday night, and practiced for the first time in over a week on Wednesday.

On Nov. 25, the entire Iowa team virtually attended Dr. Mark Nunge’s funeral. While he was away, Nunge received messages from his teammates that helped him get through a devastating moment. And then he was welcomed when he returned to the locker room.

“Every day, it’s tough. But being here with my teammates, talking with my family every day, we’re getting through this,” Nunge said. “Each day it’s a little bit easier. But there are still going to be days where you think about him. We gotta get through it, and we’ve gotta get through it together.”

“His strength is so inspiring,” said Luka Garza, who led all scorers with 35 points Thursday night. “… We all have his back here. We were ready whenever he decided he needed to come back. I’m so proud of him and I’m so happy for his family that they got to watch him do this tonight.”

Whether it was finishing an alley-oop pass from Patrick McCaffery for a dunk, draining a 3-pointer, or nailing a hookshot in the post, Nunge added versatility off the bench and was a scoring threat from down low and on the perimeter for the Hawkeyes.

Nunge’s father would constantly be in the stands when his son was on the court, and was a former basketball player himself. Nunge takes comfort in being back in the arena and doing what he knew his father loved to watch him do.

“I still remember shooting on the driveway with him,” said Nunge, who last spoke to his father the night before his death. “I knew it was something he would be proud of. He loved watching basketball. He loved watching the Hawks.

“So me being able to come back and play for the Hawks, I think that’s something that he’s really looking forward to. He’s watching from above. He doesn’t have to worry about work. He can just focus on the game and watch me play, and that’s something that I feel good about.”

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