Red-hot Iowa basketball gets anticipated rematch with Rutgers in Big Ten Tournament
INDIANAPOLIS — On Tuesday, Iowa forward Keegan Murray expressed that Iowa men's basketball mindset needed to change entering this week's Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes were one of the conference's hottest teams.
But as he noted, everyone's record was now essentially 0-0.
The message was received loud and clear.
Iowa opened its Big Ten tournament run in historic fashion with a 112-76 win over Northwestern. The Hawkeyes broke four different tournament records along the way:
- Most points in a game (112)
- Most field goals made in a game (43)
- Most three pointers in a game (19)
- Biggest scoring margin (36)
Five Hawkeyes scored in double figures, led by Murray's 26 points, 10 different players made at least one three pointer and every player on the roster scored at least one field goal.
"We can't play much better than we played," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Iowa's starting five set the tone immediately, shooting 56% from the field, 57% from three and carried a plus-5 rebounding advantage in the opening minutes. Strong rebounding throughout allowed Iowa to take significantly more shots in the first half, carrying a plus-13 advantage into halftime.
By game's end, Iowa held a 45-18 rebounding advantage.
Walk-on Luc Laketa's bank shot 3-pointer with 20 seconds left put an exclamation point on a near-perfect opening round game. A win on Thursday was expected but how they won, according to senior Jordan Bohannon, will help the team continue to grow in this tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
"It just build a lot of team morale," Bohannon said. "The fact that we got a lot of guys in that don't get a lot of playing time. Walk-ons getting a chance to come in and play in front of their families and be a part of this experience, it continues to help our team moving forward especially as we try to make a run."
Here are three more takeaways from Thursday night's game:
Tony Perkins is emerging as a passer
Tony Perkins is mostly known as a dependable defender and recently has been praised for scoring the ball. However, an area of his game that's emerged this week is his passing. In Sunday's game against Illinois, he recorded a career-high five assists. On Thursday he followed that up with another career high: six assists, with five of them coming in the first half.
His play was especially important as Iowa's point guards battled foul trouble, Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis both had two early fouls.
"That's why he's taken his game to the next level," Bohannon said. "He's always been kind of that scorer, but now he's realizing he can use that to his advantage and really open up other people's games and he's going to continue to get better."
Perkins' playmaking ability is new on the Big Ten stage, but it's not surprising to McCaffery who has seen this ability before. Perkins' confidence is growing and as a result, he's getting more comfortable showing his full range of skills.
"He could always handle the ball and pass the ball and make plays for other people," McCaffery said. "I think that's what makes him special. That's why he was such a great high school player and we felt so strongly about having him join our program and be an impact player in the Big Ten."
Welcome back, Patrick McCaffery
Iowa received a pregame boost when it was announced that starting forward Patrick McCaffery would return to the starting lineup after missing Sunday's game at Illinois (hip/illness). The Hawkeyes missed his offensive skillset and ability to create driving lanes for guards like Bohannon and his perimeter shooting that helps open up Iowa's offense.
He scored 10 points (3-of-6 shooting) in 18 minutes, nine of those coming in the first half. Fran McCaffery noted that they didn't know how much Patrick could contribute due to missed practice time.
With a short turnaround, it'll be worth monitoring his minutes against Rutgers. But it's encouraging that he was able to contribute early in Thursday's win.
"He was really good," Fran McCaffery said. "He ran out of gas a little bit, said he felt good, but he seemed to be a little fatigued. I would have put him back in, but not when we were up by 30 points, so we kept him out.
"He was aggressive attacking, his defense was pretty solid, he had one breakdown and that's when he got tired and I was trying to get him out. I just have to make sure that he's going good physically. All in all, we're very pleased with him."
Iowa's players wanted another shot at Rutgers
Fran McCaffery quickly brushed off the notion that Friday's game against Rutgers was a revenge game for Iowa. But players are different than coaches.
"I definitely marked that game when I saw them on our side of our bracket," Bohannon said. "We feel like we deserved an overtime up there, we weren't given it and that's OK; we have to earn this win (Friday)."
Following a 112-point outing on Thursday, Iowa will face a Rutgers team that held them to just 46 points in their January meeting. A controversial foul call on Keegan Murray in the closing seconds gave Rutgers two free throws that decided the game.
That game was the difference in Rutgers getting the coveted double bye in this week's tournament.
Iowa shooter Payton Sandfort said Thursday that the Rutgers game "feels like five years ago."
"We all feel like it's a game that we should've won," Keegan Murray said. "I feel like for us we wanted this game and we got it now. It's just putting the pieces together, getting the scout and trying to get a win (on Friday)."
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.