Iowa men's basketball bounces back against Minnesota behind furious second-half rally
IOWA CITY — The Iowa men's basketball team took the floor on Sunday afternoon at home needing a win.
The Hawkeyes were without head coach Fran McCaffery, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week. The responsibility to galvanize the team fell on third-year assistant coach Billy Taylor, and there were tough decisions to make even before tip-off.
With Taylor at the helm, the Hawkeyes made their first, big lineup change of the season: replacing Joe Toussaint with Tony Perkins and moving Jordan Bohannon back to point guard. Perkins' play proved inconsequential (just 1-for-4 shooting) and overall Iowa's offense wasn't much improved throughout the game. But the Hawkeyes pulled away down the stretch for a 71-59 victory.
Iowa (15-7, 5-6 Big Ten Conference) defeated Minnesota (11-9, 2-9) to snap a two-game skid. Keegan Murray was fantastic again with a game-high 24 points to go along with 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Patrick McCaffery, the lone McCaffery participating in the game, finished second in scoring with 18 points.
The Hawkeyes' decisive victory in the box score doesn't fully reflect the type of game that took place on Sunday. Throughout the first half, Iowa struggled on both sides of the ball. Murray led the way with 14 points and nine rebounds but no other starter scored in double figures and the backcourt combined to shoot just 4-for-12 with 10 points.
Minnesota connected on a half-court three-pointer as time expired to carry a 38-34 lead into halftime. Iowa started the second half shooting much better. A trio of Minnesota threes preserved a 47-42 lead with just over 14 minutes to play. Then Iowa flipped a switch after moving to a man-to-man defensive scheme.
For the remainder of the game, Iowa outscored Minnesota 29-12. The furious rally began on defense with three straight stops, including two shot-clock violations. On the other end of those violations were baskets by Murray and center Filip Rebraca. Iowa held Minnesota to just 23% shooting in the second half while the Hawkeyes shot 53%. Backup point guard Ahron Ulis shouldered the minutes in the second half and completed his best half of the season: seven points, three rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes.
Minnesota will not count a signature win, but it's a win that Iowa desperately needed. From Murray's excellence, Patrick McCaffery's quietly strong game, defensive improvement and a coaching victory for Taylor, there were plenty of positive takeaways.
What's next for Iowa: two winnable games against Maryland and Nebraska this week. If the Hawkeyes take care of business they can be above .500 in Big Ten play in a week's time.
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.