IOWA CITY — Jack Nunge isn’t one of those 18-year-olds who shows a lot of emotion.
Iowa’s 6-foot-11 freshman forward already has developed a reputation for being unflappable and poker-faced. But you can tell there is some excitement bubbling beneath the surface about the game he will play tonight.
Nunge will be playing his first Big Ten road game ever back in his home state and he’d like nothing better than to help the Hawkeyes snap out of their recent slump with a victory over Indiana in the not-so-friendly confines of the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“Going back to Indiana, I’ve got a lot of friends that are coming and my whole family will be there so it will be sweet,’’ Nunge said.
He’s not sure exactly how many people will be making the 90-minute trek up Interstate 69 from his hometown of Newburgh, Indiana, a small town on the Ohio River just east of Evansville. And they won’t all be sitting together in one section, but he figures he will hear them wherever they happen to be sitting.
Nunge never received much recruiting attention from the Hoosiers despite the fact that he was one of four finalists for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award last winter.
“Just a little bit early on in the process and then towards the end,’’ he said, “but it wasn’t a fit.’’
Nunge said he very likely would have chosen to sign with Iowa anyway. He lived in Coralville until the fifth grade, when his father Mark, a physician, relocated the family to Newburgh. Ne never really became a fan of Indiana or Purdue.
“I’d say I was more of an Iowa fan from when I used to live here,’’ he said. “It just stuck with me.’’
Nunge showed his potential immediately last summer by being named the MVP of the Prime Time League and he has made an impact in his freshman season.
He is fourth on the team in minutes played despite the fact that he has started only one game. He leads the team in steals, is second in blocked shots, is shooting 56.7 percent from the field and has made seven of his 15 3-point attempts.
He has been especially effective as the point man on the Hawkeyes’ fullcourt press.
“Jack has played extremely well,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said last week. “He did not play well against UAB (in his only start), but other than that, he's been spectacular.’’
Tonight’s game is important for reasons beyond just Nunge’s return to Indiana. The Hawkeyes desperately need a win after losing four of their past five games and dropping their Big Ten opener to Penn State 77-73 on Saturday.
McCaffery said following that game that he’s still not seeing the consistency he wants and expects from his team.
“We're really good at times, and we're really not very good at times, at both ends …’’ McCaffery said. “We were not aggressive enough. We were not connected together. So I think the word is consistency. We're really good at certain things, and we're not good at all at others.’’
Forwards Nicholas Baer and Cordell Pemsl both said the Hawkeyes are “right there.
“There’s just a few minor things we need to get adjusted and if we do that, then I think we’ll be OK,’’ Pemsl said.
Nunge, who had a career-high three blocked shots against Penn State, said he feels he has done OK in the first eight games of his college career but knows better days are ahead both for him and his teammates.
“We still have a lot to work on and it’s a long season,’’ he said. “We’re just trying to improve and prepare for our goal of making the NCAA tournament.’’