IOWA CITY — You could tell how much it meant to Ryan Kriener.
The 6-foot-9 junior had played in 69 previous games in his Iowa basketball career, but he never had been a starter. He’d never gotten the chance to be one of the five players who run out into the spotlight while the fans cheer and pyrotechnics are fired.
He finally got that chance Sunday. And he delivered.
Kriener scored 14 points, one short of his career high, and matched a career best with three blocked shots as he helped Iowa break into the win column in the Big Ten with a 93-84 victory over Nebraska.
“Coach told me the other day I was going to be starting,’’ Kriener said, “and I just tried to come in with the same mentality I have any time I come into the game: Just play as hard as I can.’’
Kriener is one of those kids who never seems to get too excited about anything on the court. He normally is the picture of aplomb, but he admitted the idea of starting sort of threw him.
Sophomore center Luka Garza missed the previous three games with a sprained ankle with senior Nicholas Baer replacing him in the lineup. But with the Hawkeyes in an 0-3 hole in the Big Ten, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery decided to try something different.
“I‘m glad he told me in advance instead of just dropping it on me right before the game,’’ Kriener said. “When he told me, I tried not to freak out because it’s something you always dream about when you come to your dream school, starting for them. I just tried to stay as calm as I could.’’
He said there still were some jitters as he walked onto the court, but on the very first possession of the game, he found himself with a wide-open 3-point shot and drained it to give Iowa a 3-0 lead.
“As soon as I hit it, all those jitters went away,’’ Kriener said.
McCaffery said he thought the starting assignment probably gave Kriener a little added confidence. He and his players weren’t at all surprised that the former Spirit Lake star produced the way he did.
“I was super excited that he got the start and he did exactly what I expected him to do,’’ forward Tyler Cook said. “I expected him to come in and play his butt off and he hit that first shot to get him going, to get us going. That was huge for him to do that.’’
Garza returned to action Sunday and played 10 minutes. Kriener figures to return to a reserve role once the sophomore gets completely healthy.
But in the meantime, even Garza seemed ecstatic to see Kriener get his chance. He gave him a big hug right before he stepped onto the court to start the game.
“I was so happy for him,’’ Garza said. “He’s one of those guys that’s so tough to guard in practice. I guard a lot of guys in the Big Ten, but he’s really tough to guard in practice.
“He’s confident in his moves and when he’s going like that, with no hesitation, he’s a really good player. Today you could see that. He was confident. He wasn’t antsy. He just made moves and he really helped us.’’
Moving up: With five 3-point field goals and a season-high 25 points Sunday, Jordan Bohannon reached one milestone and put himself in position to achieve another.
The five 3s moved him into fourth place on Iowa’s career list with 220, moving him past former teammate Peter Jok. Still ahead of him are Jeff Horner (262), Matt Gatens (239) and Chris Kingsbury (226).
Bohannon also now has 987 points in his career. With 13 more, he will become the 48th Hawkeye player to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
Harsh words: There were a few heated moments in Sunday’s game, including one in which Bohannon scrambled back to foul Nebraska’s James Palmer on an apparent breakaway with 6 minutes, 59 seconds remaining.
The Cornhuskers’ Isaac Copeland had a few words for Bohannon and a short time later he and teammate Nana Akenten briefly confronted McCaffery in front of the Iowa bench.
“If somebody fouls my teammate the way number three — whatever his name is — fouled James, I’m gonna say something,” Copeland told the Lincoln Journal Star. “Let him know it’s not just him hitting James. He’s got to deal with the rest of us. So I’m just taking care of my teammate.”
Out of the rankings: As expected, the Hawkeyes dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 after suffering an 86-70 loss to Purdue on Thursday.
It was a rough week for the Big Ten as it went from having seven ranked teams to having four. Nebraska and Wisconsin also dropped out while Michigan remained No. 2, Michigan State No. 6, Ohio State No. 16 and Indiana No. 22.
The league thoroughly dominated the “others receiving votes’’ list, however, as Wisconsin is 27th, Iowa 28th, Minnesota 29th, Purdue 30th, Nebraska 31st and Maryland 32nd.
POWs: Michigan State’s Nick Ward was named the Big Ten player of the week after averaging 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in a pair of wins last week.
Indiana’s Romeo Langford, who scored a career-high 28 points in a win over Illinois, won freshman of the week honors for the third time.