Iowa men's basketball gets much needed Quad 1 win at Ohio State behind Keegan, Kris Murray
Iowa's home loss to Michigan on Thursday placed a bigger importance on Saturday's road game at No. 18 Ohio State.
Win and secure the much-needed marquee win for their NCAA Tournament résumé.
Or lose and fall back to under .500 in Big Ten play, with those tourney hopes in a perilous spot.
Despite the circumstances, doubt didn't exist within the locker room.
"We definitely held that sour taste in our mouths coming into this game and I think that showed," Iowa senior forward Connor McCaffery said. "I kept saying in the pregame huddle to play pissed off and I think we did that."
In the biggest game of the season, rebounding, tenacious defense and standout performances by twin brothers Keegan and Kris Murray lifted Iowa to a 75-62 win in Columbus, Ohio. Keegan Murray led the team with 24 points and Kris Murray poured in 11 points and eight rebounds.
With the win, Iowa moves to 18-8 overall and 8-7 in the Big Ten while Ohio State falls to 16-7 overall and 9-5 in conference play. This also marks Iowa's first Quad 1 win, a critical metric in determining NCAA Tournament bids. It's also Ohio State's first home loss of the season.
"We knew we couldn't have (Michigan fatigue) as an excuse," sophomore forward Kris Murray said. "I think we came out with a lot of good energy defensively (and) offensively in spurts. I think that was pretty big and I think that shows we can put together games like back-to-back and that's going to be big in the postseason as well."
Iowa's early afternoon tip-off in Columbus marked their second game in less than 48 hours and fatigue showed in the opening minutes. The Hawkeyes began the game on just a 3-for-10 start from the field offensively, and on the other end allowed six of Ohio State's first seven baskets to come via layup or dunk.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery called a timeout at the 13:14 mark with his team down 11 points, and it appeared that the quick turnaround plus a tough road atmosphere would be too much to handle.
And then Keegan Murray took over.
The star sophomore forward and projected NBA Draft lottery pick scored the next 10 Iowa points in a variety of ways: a 3-pointer, a layup plus the foul followed by a tip in and another dunk. In less than two minutes, Iowa only trailed by a 21-20 margin.
"During that point in time, I felt like that was a turning point for us," Keegan Murray said. "I felt like I needed to show some emotion to get our team riled up and get the energy going. A two-day turnaround is tough for any team, I think they kind of fed off of that and it was a big moment for us."
Murray finished the first half with 20 points on 8-13 shooting; Iowa outscored Ohio State 29-17 for the remainder of the half and led 39-38 at the break.
The beginning of the of the second half featured much less Murray: he didn't attempt his first shot until the 8:04 mark and his first made shot at 7:07. However, unlike the first half where the rest of Iowa's team only managed 18 points, scoring by Jordan Bohannon and Patrick McCaffery kept Iowa in the lead during Murray's drought. With 12:44 to play, Iowa led 51-49.
The Hawkeyes lead reached as many as nine points, 58-49, but Ohio State continued to hang close, primarily through stingy defense. Points were difficult to come by down the stretch, constant foul calls on both sides stifled the momentum.
Down the stretch, Keegan and twin brother Kris led Iowa to the deciding win. Kris led all Hawkeyes with 11 second half points and continued to play strong defense that helped limit Ohio State star EJ Liddell (19.9 points scoring average) to 15 points on 13 shots.
The biggest moment of all: With just over 2:40 remaining and up six points, a series of Iowa offensive rebounds by Bohannon, Kris Murray and Ahron Ulis were the final three of 20 for the game that led to a dagger Connor McCaffery 3-pointer to seal it.
The Hawkeyes won the rebounding battle by a 40-31 margin and improved to 15-0 this season when they win that battle.
"We were able to essentially take over a minute off the clock, which is big," coach Fran McCaffery said. "And then hit the three, which was the dagger. Couldn't have asked for anything better in that situation."
Same could be said for Iowa's performance overall on Saturday in a key win as the Hawkeyes near March.
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.