Iowa basketball: Hawkeyes pull positives from Purdue loss and an update on Keegan Murray
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Moral victories usually don't have a place in Big Ten men's basketball, but Iowa's 77-70 loss to soon-to-be-No. 1 Purdue might be an exception.
The Hawkeyes battled back from a 19-point, second-half deficit Friday night to make it a one-possession game in the closing minutes before Purdue finally closed the door on the upset.
And Iowa did so without its top player Keegan Murray. The sophomore and nation's leading scorer tweaked his ankle on Monday at Virginia and was held out on Friday. Iowa will have a quick turnaround, playing Monday at home against Illinois, but head coach Fran McCaffery is optimistic about his return.
"I think he will (play Monday)," McCaffery said. 'But I thought he'd be ready today so I don't really know."
Murray's absence on offense meant more opportunities for other players. His brother Kris, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder, started in Keegan's place and contributed 12 points. Patrick McCaffery led the team and tied a season-high with 15 points, and Tony Perkins scored 14. Murray's absence was huge but Iowa proved that there are capable scorers if needed.
"Keegan's played extremely well, but he can't do it all himself," Fran McCaffery said. "He's been getting help but this is a great confidence-booster for so many guys. So many guys contributed."
Still, Iowa had its worst offensive showing of the season with a season-low 70 points and 43% shooting from the field. But the Hawkeyes' defense traveled to West Lafayette and kept them in the game when shots weren't falling.
Picking up the defensive intensity has been a central theme of this Iowa team dating to off-season workouts. Purdue trailed only Iowa in the country in points per game, but the Hawkeyes held them to a season-low 77 points and forced them into 17 turnovers.
Iowa used a full-court press throughout much of the game to disrupt Purdue's rhythm. The Hawkeyes couldn't allow Purdue, which already had a significant size advantage, to easily get into its offensive sets without resistance. The downside of press defense is it allows teams to get easy baskets if the defenders aren't disciplined in their assignments. But the Hawkeyes performed well enough for coach McCaffery to keep that strategy for long stretches.
"I felt like we were battling," Fran McCaffery said. "Effort, intensity level, our ability to stay connected whether we were in (full-court) press (defense) or half-court."
"Everyone in that locker room has heart," Patrick McCaffery said. "We knew the whole time we were right there. Unfortunately we came up short and that's going to happen sometimes in this game but they made their run, we knew we'd come back with one of our own and did."
Another positive result from Friday was backup center Josh Ogundele's performance. He's had a rocky start to the season, missing one game to injury and another to a non-COVID illness, but against Purdue he played a career-high 16 minutes and contributed seven points and five rebounds. Most of his contributions came in the second half.
Iowa's big-man position is a work in progress. Especially against bigger opponents like Purdue, Iowa will need Ogundele to provide solid minutes off the bench.
"I think after the first bucket all of the confidence came to me," Ogundele said. "At first I was a bit nervous obviously but after a while it was like how we normally play in practice, running up and down and doing the things I know that I can do."
News broke about Keegan Murray's absence around 90 minutes before tip-off, but the Hawkeyes knew earlier in the day. Regardless of injury, they came into Mackey Arena expecting to compete and win. At the 9:54 mark of the second half, the Hawkeyes were on the wrong end of a 19-8 run that put them in a 63-44 deficit.
Iowa responded with a 26-7 run that cut the lead to 70-68 with 2:32 seconds left in the game. What was the secret to the turnaround? Nothing schematic, according to Patrick McCaffery, just belief.
"That was a big emphasis, staying together," Patrick McCaffery said. "We knew it was going to be loud in there, we knew it was going to be a hostile environment. They're too good of a team to not make a run. They made their run. All right, time to make ours and that's what we did."
Iowa wasn't able to put together enough winning possessions in a row to win the game, but overall McCaffery and his team were pleased with how they played minus their star player.
There are no excuses, Ogundele said, but it does pose the question: What would've happened if Keegan Murray played? We'll never know, but his absence on Friday might end up doing more good in the long run. The loss was disappointing, but the Hawkeyes left Mackey Arena with their heads held high. If anything, there's more room for optimism.
"I already knew we could stand with any team in the country, and I stand by that," Ogundele said. "It's a building block and I'm excited to see what we can become."
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 email@example.com.