Three big reasons why Iowa basketball survived Big Ten test from Maryland
Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery can point to several factors as to why his Hawkeyes bested Maryland 80-75 on Monday night.
Iowa won the points in the paint battle (40-34), outshot the Terrapins from 3-point range by over 20% in the second half and led for twice as long as Maryland did (24:53-12:03).
But what impressed McCaffery the most was how well they handled themselves through adversity. Iowa led by double digits early but a game of runs ensued. The two teams were tied at six different points in the game but in the end, the Hawkeyes prevailed.
"We maintained our composure," McCaffery said. "Maryland is a talented team. They go on runs. That's what they do."
Keegan Murray tied a career-high 35 points in front of the home crowd. He scored nine of the team's first 11 points in the second half on his way to a 19-point second half performance. The only other player who scored in double figures was center Filip Rebraca finished with 13 points accompanied by eight rebounds.
Iowa's win ensures they avoid an 0-3 start in Big Ten play. The importance and timeliness of this win cannot be overstated. Their next game is on the road at No. 23 Wisconsin, who upset No. 3 ranked Purdue on Monday night.
"You kind of had the feeling it was going to be a close game," McCaffery said. "You want to be able to win a close game, execute coming down the stretch, get the stops you need, execute your press offense, make your free throws. We made enough. I think it was important."
Here are three takeaways from Monday night's game:
Rebounding was key
One of the biggest reasons for Iowa's three-game losing streak in December was a significant rebounding deficit. On Monday, Maryland outrebounded Iowa 22-16 in the first half, including eight offensive rebounds. Toussaint said after the game that the coaching staff challenged them to crash the boards harder in the second half.
The result: An 18-16 Iowa advantage in the second half. Not eye-popping but for a team that will be undersized in nearly every game the rest of the way, staying close to even is key. A second half adjustment in defense by McCaffery also aided in their turnaround.
"We started the second half in (man-to-man defense)," McCaffery said. "So there's one way to look at rebounding when you're in man. It's another way to look at it if you're in zone. A lot of coaches won't play zone for that very reason. There's no necessary, defined, lockout responsibility. You're blocking out areas and you're trying to find somebody.
So they're a team, if you give them second and third shot opportunities, they're going to beat you. If you don't and you can run, then now you have them in transition mode defensively and we're a good team offensively in transition. So that was the thought process there."
Assist-to-turn turnover ratio continues to be elite
Last season, Iowa set a NCAA record for assist-to-turnover margin in a season at 2.02. This year, they're following that same pace with a 1.97 margin, good enough for second in the country. They lead the nation in fewest turnovers per game with just under nine (8.8).
Monday night was no different. The Hawkeyes only committed seven turnovers but dished out 17 assists. That's an impressive feat for a team that plays at their pace. A storyline entering the season was the amount of ballhandlers from point guards Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis to forwards Connor McCaffery, Patrick McCaffery and Keegan Murray. Their sound decision making was on display in the closing minutes of the game as Maryland upped their pressure level to try and forced Iowa into mistakes.
"We did a pretty good job coming down the stretch," McCaffery said. "We did a good job against their pressure, that kind of speed and quickness — Connor (McCaffery) inbounding the ball, Tony (Perkins), Ahron (Ulis), Keegan doing a really good job getting open."
A complete game for Joe Toussaint
Starting point guard Joe Toussaint put together one of the most impressive stat lines of the season: nine points, four rebounds, nine assists and three steals. He recorded four of those assists in the first six minutes of the game, finding teammates like Keegan Murray for easy scores.
Murray said after the game that he hopes he and Toussaint's chemistry can rival that of Iowa's last star player.
"Joe was pushing the pace really well (Monday)," Murray said. "Luka (Garza) and him had a good connection last year and I wanted to implement that, but obviously he gets down the floor really quickly and I try to match that quickness."
It's worth noting that Toussaint attempted a season-high eight shots and connected on four of them. He only attempted more than one shot once in their previous four games. McCaffery said after the game that he was pleased with Toussaint's activity level on both ends. If he can continue to develop into a near 10 point per game scorer with his passing and defensive ability, Iowa's team can reach another gear.
"You look at nine points, nine assists and he's guarding one of the fastest guys in college basketball (Maryland's Fatts Russell)," McCaffery said. "And that guy who's really fast is getting a ball screen, like, about every five seconds. That's not easy to do. I'm proud of the way he competed."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.