Leistikow: Keegan Murray shows superstar swagger in Iowa's win at Minnesota

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

MINNEAPOLIS — In his five-plus years in an Iowa basketball uniform, Jordan Bohannon has delivered a host of game-clinching 3-point bombs on the Big Ten Conference road. The Hawkeyes’ master of the late-game heroics figuratively doffed his long-range cap Sunday to rising superstar Keegan Murray, who delivered in the clutch at Williams Arena.

Murray’s contested 3-pointer from the top of the key — from a good 25 or 26 feet out — splashed the bottom of the net with 59 seconds left after valiant Minnesota had sliced a 23-point deficit to three.

“Those are the best kind of shots to take, (late) in the shot clock,” Murray said. “You really have no choice but to put it up. I just felt confident in my shot. I knew it was going in the moment it left my hand.”

Shortly thereafter, Murray had a hand in making sure Minnesota was done scoring. He blocked a layup at the other end of the court, and Bohannon subsequently sank four free throws to help the Hawkeyes stave off the Gophers, 81-71.

Murray is an all-America candidate, his scoring average now up to a national-best 23.94 points per game (Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis is at 23.93) after a 25-point, 10-rebound performance. But no three points this season were bigger.

The Hawkeyes were melting down, triggering memories of last season’s Christmas Day fiasco when they saw a seven-point lead with 37 seconds left crumble in what became an overtime loss. That was without fans. Sunday, “The Barn” was alive after a sleepy first 30 minutes.

Murray did something about it. He seemed a little miffed that he wasn't targeted on some late Iowa possessions before this one.

His mentality: “I had to make a basket for our team.”

Murray called for the ball from Tony Perkins and got it with four seconds on the shot clock. He didn’t hesitate, with a defender jumping at him.

"I just feel like as a leader," Murray said, "I need to get the ball more late in the game, take control late in the game."

Much appreciated by Bohannon, the NCAA’s all-time leader in games played who understands how tough it is to get a Big Ten road win — even against a Minnesota team that was down to seven scholarship players due to injuries and COVID-19 absences.

Patrick McCaffery (right), Filip Rebraca and Keegan Murray made some key buckets down the stretch after Iowa's 63-40 lead shrunk quickly.

“When he’s going, our team’s going,” Bohannon said. “It’s been a lot of fun to see him grow as a player and as an individual. He continues to show the nation why he’s one of the best players in the country."

Don't forget, this was just Murray's second-ever Big Ten road game with fans. Last week's 87-78 loss at Wisconsin was his first. He sat out the Hawkeyes' earlier loss at Purdue with an ankle injury. So credit to Murray for his fast ability to adapt to what's surrounding him and understanding he's the (capable) star of this Hawkeye show.

"I coached him up on that last shot," head coach Fran McCaffery mused afterward. "He's a confident guy. We have confidence in him as a staff; his teammates have confidence in him. To him, it's no big deal."

The Hawkeyes needed a 2-0 week and got it.

They're now 13-4 overall and 3-3 in Big Ten play and have won six of seven games since a Dec. 9 setback at Iowa State. While there was some nervousness about Iowa's 63-40 lead shrinking to 74-71 — that's a 31-11 run, for those counting — give credit to the Hawkeyes for racing out to such a big lead.

“It’s very rare you’re going to see a team win by 20 on the road in the Big Ten," said Bohannon, who finished with 12 points. "It took all of us to get a double-digit win today."

That included Filip Rebraca, who Fran McCaffery lauded after a 12-point, 12-rebound game in which he also had two blocks and three steals.

"There's no reason he shouldn't play like that every night," McCaffery said. "He's gaining confidence every day. He's trying so hard to be a part of a winning team, he doesn't think of himself enough. ... I thought defensively, he was great."

Joe Toussaint had terrific, explosive moments as well. He had eight points and seven assists. Tony Perkins and Kris Murray had five key points each off the bench. Patrick McCaffery scored nine of his 12 points after halftime, as his father left his starters in most of the second half.

The Hawkeyes were playing short-handed, too, with Connor McCaffery sidelined with back soreness. Fran McCaffery said his oldest son tried to go but couldn't and hopes to be ready for Wednesday's game at Rutgers.

Iowa players took exception to a recent article about their sportsmanship.

A column from the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jim Polzin wrote that the Hawkeyes’ postgame reaction to a foul call late in the first half Jan. 6 was “over the top.” The piece called out the Big Ten’s lack of follow-up accountability on its sportsmanship policy and cited tweets from Bohannon and Connor McCaffery.

Patrick McCaffery, who was whistled for the foul in question on Wisconsin’s Brad Davison, made pointed comments after the game that Davison kicked him. After Sunday’s win, McCaffery told reporters in jest, “Don’t ask me any crazy questions. Because I will not answer them today."

Bohannon called the piece “click-bait” and said, “I think (Polzin) was out of line with how he handled it. I think he should worry about his own program.”

Never a dull moment involving the Hawkeyes and Badgers, who are not scheduled to play again this season.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.