Iowa basketball rides second-half blitz, Keegan Murray's career-high 35 to rout Utah State

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Keegan Murray and the Iowa Hawkeyes put on a fast-paced show for the people of South Dakota on Saturday night.

One game after being held to a season-low nine points, Murray poured in a career-high 35 as the Hawkeyes raced past Utah State, 94-75, before a sold-out crowd of 3,250 at the intimate-but-intense Sanford Pentagon.

This was a neutral-site game in name only, with black-and-gold everywhere except the Utah State bench.

Keegan Murray scored 25 of his career-high 35 points in the first half of Iowa's "neutral-site" win against Utah State.

Murray was sensational, canning 13 of 17 shots from the floor and 7 of 8 free throws in just 29 minutes of action. Whether it was a spinning layup in the lane or a fast-break dunk or a spot-up 3-pointer, the sophomore forward had his way against the Aggies. His top-of-the-key 3 with 13:09 remaining pushed him past his previous career high of 29 points, set earlier this season against Western Michigan, and lifted Iowa's lead to 66-53.

From there, Kris Murray — Keegan's identical-twin brother — extended the lead further with back-to-back 3s, and the Hawkeyes were ready to celebrate a win against a very-solid Utah State team. Iowa entered with a No. 32 NCAA NET ranking; Utah State (8-4) was at No. 35.

Kris Murray finished with 17 points for Iowa, all but two of them in the second half. Patrick McCaffery added 12 points, and Jordan Bohannon tossed in 11.

“Tonight, we played really well against a really, really good team," head coach Fran McCaffery said. "It took the kind of effort we gave tonight to beat that team.”

Playing nine days after scoring just 53 points in a resounding road loss at Iowa State, the Hawkeyes had 51 points in the first half alone Saturday.

They shot 20-for-29 from the floor and 8-for-10 from the foul line in the opening 20 minutes while committing just four turnovers — a highly efficient performance that averaged a robust 1.457 points per possession. Yet it took a half-ending 8-0 run for the Hawkeyes to get to the locker room with a 51-43 halftime lead.

The pro-Hawkeye Pentagon crowd reached a boisterous level after Murray slammed home a dunk in transition off a feed from Patrick McCaffery, forcing a Utah State timeout. The crowd got even louder when a McCaffery-to-Murray feed delivered another dunk on the very next possession. That made it 50-43 Iowa.

Keegan Murray scored 18 consecutive Hawkeye points during one first-half stretch helping Iowa match the slick-passing Aggies basket-for-basket. Utah State was no offensive slouch in the opening 20 minutes, hitting 53.3% from the floor and delivering assists on 15 of its 16 made baskets.

“We came together as a group. Obviously the last three games were tough for us," Keegan Murray said. "Practiced well this last week. Today, it paid off.”

Iowa (8-3) returns home at 7 p.m. Tuesday to face Southeastern Louisiana (4-7 entering Sunday's game at Iowa State), then will have another eight-day break until a Dec. 29 home matchup against Western Illinois.

Check back at HawkCentral.com for more postgame coverage from our Chad Leistikow in Sioux Falls.