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Ryan Kriener does the dirty work to help No. 17 Iowa win in 'The Barn'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

MINNEAPOLIS — Ryan Kriener has the longest wingspan on the Iowa men’s basketball team, and the longest guest list Sunday at Williams Arena.

Iowa’s senior center said there were so many friends and relatives in the crowd to see his final game here that he lost track. They were texting him the location of their seats throughout the week, so he could look up into the sea of 14,625 fans and give them a wink or a nod or a wave.

Kriener’s crew got to see one of the grittiest performances of a Hawkeye career that has been built on grunt work, not glamour.

The 6-foot-10 native of Spirit Lake in northern Iowa, with arms that stretch out to 7-3, got his fourth start of the season with CJ Fredrick hobbled by an ankle sprain.

Iowa's Ryan Kriener (15) blocks the shot of Minnesota's Daniel Oturu on Sunday at Williams Arena, one of four blocks the Hawkeye senior made in a 58-55 win.

Kriener played a career-high 34 minutes, took a career-high 14 shots of his own and nullified a career-high four of Minnesota’s. He saved his best play for last, reading a Gophers’ screen for point guard Marcus Carr at the top of the key and springing out to deflect his 3-point attempt that would have given the home team the lead with 6 seconds left.

Instead, Kriener’s hustle preserved a 58-55 win for No. 17 Iowa (18-8, 9-6 Big Ten Conference). It was the Hawkeyes’ first victory at “The Barn” since 2015, which means it was the only one Kriener will get to experience here, on his final try.

Kriener, who admitted to being sore after the game, was nevertheless eager to hustle out of the locker room for a little celebrating with all his Minnesota kin.

“I think it just speaks to the heart and character of our team,” Kriener said after the Hawkeyes outscored the Gophers (12-12, 6-8) 11-0 in the final 5 minutes and 25 seconds to complete a season sweep of their rival. “Every day going back to the summer and fall, we work on stuff just like that. ‘Win the segment. Win the situation.’ I think that’s just something that makes you battle-tested.”

Kriener scored 15 points in an Iowa loss up here two seasons ago. He took 11 shots in that one, which was his career-high before this. That’s because he’s never been asked to be a big scorer for Iowa.

The Hawkeyes needed a little more from Kriener on Sunday, and he didn’t hesitate to try to provide it. Fredrick, and his 10.7 points per game, was out. Sophomore Joe Wieskamp, who averages 15.4 points, was harried into a season-low output of two. Starting center Luka Garza, a front-runner for Big Ten player of the year, went to the bench with two fouls with 5:23 left in the first half and Iowa leading 21-18.

Minnesota immediately took advantage, scoring the next 10 points. Kriener kept things from getting out of hand before intermission with a jumpshot and a layup that became a three-point play. The Hawkeyes trailed only 31-26 at halftime, well within striking distance.

“He did a tremendous job. He was all over the place,” said Garza, who scored 24 points before fouling out for the only time this season. “When I went out with foul trouble, he rebounded well and he scored for us at times when we needed big buckets.”

The game wasn’t smooth for anyone, and Kriener was no exception. He made only four of his 14 shots, missing all three of his 3-point attempts.

But he gathered seven rebounds. He added two assists. And he helped limit Minnesota to 20 points in the paint, drawing the assignment on star center Daniel Oturu late in the game.

“He’s a physical player. He’s constantly communicating out there,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Kriener. “So when our defense looks good and performs well, it’s a lot of time because of his communication and telling guys where to go, where the screens are.”

Iowa used man-to-man defense, a 2-3 zone and ultimately a 3-2 that Kriener said “morphed into a diamond-and-one.” He was the one in that scenario, focusing on Oturu, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds, both below his averages of 20.1 and 11.5.

The Gophers, looking confused, turned the ball over on five of their final six possessions, most of which exhausted the bulk of the shot clock.

“I think that really stymied them because they weren’t able to throw it into Oturu as much,” Kriener said.

“I was in full denial most of the time.”

There was no denying his impact, though. Kriener was Iowa’s second-leading scorer with 10 points and drew four of Minnesota’s 17 fouls. He’ll almost certainly get the start again Thursday when the Hawkeyes host Ohio State.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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