Keegan Murray's big night, scrappy bench helps Iowa basketball pull away from NC-Central

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Fran McCaffery desired defense in a game that was more tense than anyone expected. He found some as he looked down his bench.

Backup guards Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins delivered a second-half spark, and Keegan Murray delivered another career night as Iowa defeated North Carolina-Central, 86-69, before a light crowd Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Murray set a new career high in points for the third straight game with 27 and grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds. Murray also blocked four shots.

Murray had scored 24 and 25 points in Iowa’s first two games. The sophomore's previous high in rebounds was 12 at Wisconsin last season.

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Perkins, meanwhile, delivered a career-high 13 points and added three steals. Before Tuesday, the sophomore had scored 49 points in 26 games. He and Ulis, who has been the backup point guard to Joe Toussaint, got the call from McCaffery in a 57-54 game with 13 minutes to go. After the Eagles tied it, 57-57, they turned up the defense to spur a game-finishing run for the Hawkeyes (3-0).

Perkins’ bucket off a full-court pass from Murray pushed Iowa's lead to 63-58; then Perkins returned the favor, getting a steal and feeding Murray for a breakaway dunk to make it 67-58 with 8:55 to go, and order was restored.

“They’re scrappy, and they gave us their best shot today. And we answered the call," Murray said. "I think it was a good win overall for our team. We fought adversity early on in the season.”

Ulis finished with a career-high 12 points, including 7-for-8 accuracy from the foul line. Before Tuesday, the sophomore had 38 career points.

Patrick McCaffery's first-half dunk gave Iowa a 38-23 lead over North Carolina-Central, but the Eagles fought back and had it tied, 57-57, with 12 minutes to go.

This game was more tense than expected, considering projected a comfortable 32-point win for the Hawkeyes.

Buoyed by 58.1% first-half shooting, visiting North Carolina-Central played Iowa to within 49-44 at halftime. The Eagles (0-3) had lost three days earlier at Memphis by 39 points.

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Iowa looked to have wrestled away from a 23-23 tie by putting together a 15-0 run over a stretch of 4:03 — capped by a Patrick McCaffery dunk or a 38-23 lead. But North Carolina-Central roared back with a 21-11 run over the final 6:01 of the first half.

Jordan Bohannon shot 1-for-9 from 3-point range and finished with seven points. He is tied with Ohio State's Jon Diebler for the Big Ten's career record in made 3-pointers (374). 

The Hawkeyes host Alabama State at 6 p.m. Thursday.