The Spirit Lake native was ready for his chance against Purdue.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — As Ryan Kriener fielded questions from reporters following Iowa’s 83-78 upset of No. 19 Purdue, Tyler Cook entered the interview room and directed a playful “M-V-P” chant toward his fellow freshman teammate.
Kriener’s contributions were certainly valuable, but “M-S-P” might’ve fit even better — he was definitely Iowa’s Most Surprising Player on Thursday night.
“Not too many guys can come off the bench and be ready like he was,” Cook said. “That was huge for us.”
Kriener, a seldom-used 6-foot-9 post, was thrust into the fire by coach Fran McCaffery.
With Iowa’s other big men getting into foul trouble in the second half, Kriener got the call — for just the second time in Big Ten Conference play — and looked like he belonged.
Kriener entered with 12 minutes, 1 second to play and Iowa trailing, 62-58. A minute later, he was driving to the hoop and beating 7-2 behemoth Isaac Haas to the bucket for a nifty layup.
Forty seconds later, he buried a jumper. It was suddenly 62-62, and Carver-Hawkeye Arena was buzzing. All because of Kriener.
He wouldn’t come out until 3:49 remained. He finished with six points and two rebounds in those eight minutes.
“If I have an open shot, I’m going to take it,” Kriener said. “I obviously have a lot of confidence in my ability to score the ball. My teammates got me a lot of good looks.”
Almost as surprisingly, Purdue coach Matt Painter wasn’t caught off guard by Kriener’s appearance. Though he had played sparingly, his eight previous Big Ten minutes also came against Purdue in the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten opener in West Lafayette, Ind.
Matt Painter talks about what he knew about the seldom-used Iowa freshman before his six surprising points in a Hawkeye win. Chad Leistikow / The Register
“Normally, people foul us, and you get into foul trouble,” Painter said. “So we always talk about that next guy that barely plays or doesn’t play at all. … I went to the analytics and looked at him, because he has very few attempts. He’s been able to make three or four perimeter shots through the year.
“Give him credit. That’s hard to do when you don’t play very much. You know what I mean? You guys go sit for two months and go hit a jumper. It’s hard to do.”
Kriener’s unlikely shining moment began this week in practice, when he was impersonating Haas and 6-9 Caleb Swanigan on Iowa’s scout team.
“It was kind of difficult to play as Haas, because our games are complete opposites,” Kriener said.
Then he was playing against him.
“If he's open, he shoots it. If he's covered, he passes it. He doesn't fight the game,” McCaffery said. “The game comes easy to him. He makes the plays that are in front of him. And that's not easy for a freshman sometimes.”