Payton Sandfort, Filip Rebraca ignite Iowa basketball's blowout win over SEMO

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register
Payton Sandfort finally broke out of his scoring slump Saturday against SEMO.

IOWA CITY — A fist pump full of pent-up frustration brought Carver-Hawkeye Arena to its feet, as Payton Sandfort reveled in the riveting stretch that finally came.

A month’s worth of struggles vanished with one four-minute surge.

The sharpshooting sophomore finally broke through with an emphatic first half Saturday night, igniting Iowa’s 106-75 win over Southeast Missouri State in the Hawkeyes’ return from their final exam break.

Sandfort’s 24 points — 17 of which arrived between the first half’s 8:20 and 4:03 mark — set a new season-high and marked his first double-digit scoring game since Nov. 11 against North Carolina A&T. Head coach Fran McCaffery had been touting for a while that a bounce-back performance was coming from Sandfort. This more than qualified.

"Man," Sandfort said with a gigantic smile. "It's been a tough stretch. But I'm really proud of myself. I think I've really found myself through this stretch, both on and off the court. A lot of rough nights, but I just continue to put in the work, and that's not going to stop."

The boost was pivotal too. The Hawkeyes sported a modest 29-22 advantage with plenty of defensive breakdowns when Sandfort began his run.

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After back-to-back layups, the Waukee product drained a shot from deep and sprinted to midcourt as SEMO desperately asked for a timeout. With hype man Connor McCaffery by his side, Sandfort fired his fist pump and combined it with an emphatic yell to the delight of the Iowa bench.

He was far from finished. Another layup. Another fastbreak trey, followed by an and-1 and yet another easy bucket at the rim. Only two Patrick McCaffery free throws in the middle of that prevented Sandfort from ripping off 17 consecutive Iowa points.

The Hawkeyes entered the Sandfort surge up 7. They exited it up 19.

"The most important thing was I was just having fun again," Sandfort said. "I've made this too much and have just been overthinking everything. So just going out there and being me — having fun with my teammates, winning games — that was fun."

While all scoreboard drama vanished from there, the noteworthy performances did not. With Kris Murray still sidelined for the third consecutive game, Filip Rebraca bullied SEMO defenders left and right from the opening tip. He finished with 30 points on 12-for-13 shooting while also adding nine rebounds and six assists. Rebraca punctuated his dominant night in the second half with a nifty play along the baseline, faking a pass and then shooting over SEMO defender Kobe Clark who had his head turned.

"I used to do that move a lot at North Dakota and in high school," Rebraca said. "I was like why not go back to it? So I faked it behind his back, and he thought I passed it to the corner. It gave me an easy layup."

Rebraca even shook off a rogue Redhawks fan who peppered the fifth-year Serbian when shooting free throws. Rebraca ultimately finished 6-for-9 at the line. Patrick McCaffery joined Rebraca and Sandfort in double figures with 20 points.

With one more tune-up on Wednesday against Eastern Illinois before the Big Ten beast fully begins, the Hawkeyes will ultimately need all their weapons firing together soon. Reviving Sandfort’s production after an opening month in and out of the starting lineup sat near the top of Iowa’s to-do list.

The opponents will get harder, no doubt. But restoring confidence in Sandfort could go a long way in Iowa’s immediate success moving forward.  

"He's tremendous," Fran McCaffery said. "And you're going to see a lot more of that."

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.