Iowa men's basketball bench showing big upside in early season blowouts

For yet another time in this young season, a few Iowa men's basketball players set career-high marks. Their 109-61 win over Western Michigan was their largest win of the season, with these Hawkeyes having standout performances: 

  • Keegan Murray: Career-high 29 points 
  • Tony Perkins: Career-high 15 points 
  • Ahron Ulis: Career-high eight assists 

True freshman Riley Mulvey also set a career high with eight points, and fellow freshman Payton Sandfort's five three-pointers ties a career high. After the game, players credited their off-season preparation for their early season success. 

"All of the off-season work that I put in has led me to do different things on the court," Murray said. "My teammates just have the ultimate confidence in me. They put me in good spots to produce so kudos to them." 

"Confidence" has been a popular word among Iowa's team dating back to summer workouts. Players like Murray, Perkins and more are becoming more confident in certain aspects of their game. Through five games, that confidence is rising and that's exactly what head coach Fran McCaffery wanted to see in the early year. 

More:Another Keegan Murray gem, early bench spark lead Iowa basketball past Western Michigan

Here are five takeaways from Monday night's win: 

Keegan Murray's memorable night 

At the 11:31 mark in the first half the scoreboard read: Iowa 17, Western Michigan 8. A more accurate display would've said: Keegan Murray 17, Mack Smith 8 as they were the only two players who had scored a point. 

Murray scored 20 of the team's first 23 points on the way to a rout. His maturation from role player to go-to option is the main reason why Iowa's won their first five games. 

"He never forces the issue, but obviously we need him to be the way he is now," Fran McCaffery said. "He accepts whatever it is we ask him to do." 

The sophomore from Cedar Rapids has scored at least 24 points in every game this season and is shooting 62% from the field. Before Monday's game he was named Big Ten Player of the week for last week's performances, including 27 points and 21 rebounds against North Carolina Central. 

Murray credits conversations with his coaches and family that have helped shape his approach this season. And so far this year his confidence is blossoming.

"I've been able to score at all levels I've played at," Murray said. "Just having that confidence in myself that I know I have in me has just been crucial this season. Just getting on the floor and thinking no one can stop me has been my mindset this year. " 

More:How Iowa basketball broke two records on Thursday night at home

Another strong defensive effort 

Applying pressure on defense has been among Iowa's top priorities prior to Monday's game. Against Western Michigan, the Hawkeyes played the most man-to-man defense of the season, only playing zone in the final minutes. 

"I thought the press (defense) was really good (Monday)," McCaffery said. "The activity within the press or half court man (defense) was really intense and connected. Obviously 15 steals and 24 turnovers, it's evident in the stats." 

Iowa's backcourt of Joe Toussaint and Jordan Bohannon led the way with three steals each. In total, seven different players recorded a steal and the Hawkeyes also blocked six shots. They turned that defensive effort into points, recording 36 points off turnovers and 50 fast break points in the game. 

Though Iowa's performed well on defense to start the season, they still allowed high shooting percentages from Alabama State (49%) and North Carolina Central (47.5%). Monday's box score was much more satisfying: 38% from the field and 23% from three-point range. 

The competition level will rise soon but good habits formed now can pay off through the season. 

"We just have to keep playing head-on," Tony Perkins said. "We've been playing great and we have to continue that, getting steals and pressing." 

More:Jordan Bohannon's record-breaking shot highlights Iowa basketball's rout of Alabama State

Hawkeyes got a lot of production from the bench

Minus Keegan Murray, it was a tough night for Iowa's starters but the bench picked up the slack. Every bench player who subbed in scored at least one basket and, overall, the Hawkeyes bench won the head-to-head matchup over Western Michigan by a 63-23 margin. 

Three players: Payton Sandfort (19), Tony Perkins (15) and Kris Murray (12) scored in double digits.

Their most impressive run came late in the first half when their regular five: Ahron Ulis, Perkins, Sandfort, Connor McCaffery and Murray subbed in with Iowa leading 23-13. The bench began with an 11-0 run with three different three-pointers by Murray, Perkins and Sandfort. Overall an 18-4 run that took a modest 25-13 lead to a dominating 41-17 advantage in the span of three and a half minutes. 

For a group that's mostly stepping into major minutes for the first time, it's another encouraging performance. McCaffery said after the game that he's seen a lot of progress in practice that's pouring over into games. The rotation will surely get shorter but McCaffery should feel good about the options available. 

"They’ve done it before. They don’t play like a young group even though they’re young," McCaffery said. "They play hard and they play together. They compliment each other well. The young guys on the floor are very energetic and supportive of each other." 

More:Analyzing Iowa basketball's 11 most important games in the 2021-22 schedule

Injury update on Patrick McCaffery 

Starting forward Patrick McCaffery missed his second straight game with a lower leg injury. He came into the year managing two separate ankle sprains. Additionally, center Josh Ogundele missed Monday's game due to a non-COVID related illness. 

But McCaffery expects both players back on Friday against Portland State. 

"They'll both be back Friday," McCaffery said. "(Josh) was a lot better (Monday) than he was two days ago, he was not good then. But he's feeling better." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at