Kris Murray's career-high 32 points not enough in Iowa basketball's loss at Penn State

Chad Leistikow
Des Moines Register

Hopes for a fresh, recharged start to the new year for Iowa basketball seemingly died as quickly as most New Year’s resolutions.

The Hawkeyes came into Sunday’s game at Penn State reeling badly, on the heels of an embarrassing home loss to Eastern Illinois and an ice-cold-shooting performance at Nebraska. The urgency that coach Fran McCaffery’s team needed didn’t show up in the first half, and the Hawkeyes found themselves digging out of an 18-point halftime hole at the Bryce Jordan Center.

But a second-half awakening brought the Hawkeyes back. Kris Murray scored 22 of his career-high 32 points after halftime. It wasn't quite enough as Iowa came up short in an 83-79 loss and now finds itself in a big hole in the Big Ten Conference.

Kris Murray connected on 12 of 20 shots on his way to a career-high 32 points while also grabbing nine rebounds at Penn State.

Penn State's lead was still 14 points with five minutes remaining, but Tony Perkins' 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:27 to go chopped the score to 79-75. A Murray follow-up from his own miss made it 79-77. After two Jalen Pickett free throws, Murray scored again with 16 seconds left to keep the Penn State advantage at 81-79.

After Andrew Funk missed the front end of a one-and-one, Iowa had a chance to tie or win. But as Perkins drove in the lane, he had the ball poked away with 5 seconds left by Seth Lundy, one of the Big Ten's best defenders. Lundy was fouled with 3 seconds left and canned both free throws, and that was that.

On that crucial play, Murray had raced into the lane to set a ball screen for Perkins, then popped out to the top of the key. Perkins was double-teamed and appeared to try to get a pass back to Murray, but Lundy knifed in for the poke-away steal.

The two coaches had differing viewpoints on what they wanted from that sequence.

“What I wanted was for Tony to get downhill. ... He sort of got there, and I thought he was going to keep going," McCaffery said. "But he was trying to find Kris. We were down two, I think he was looking for Kris to hit the 3. We just needed to tie the game. He got poked."

While McCaffery would have been thrilled with the tie in that situation, Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry explained that the last thing he wanted was to give up a 3 or foul. In other words, he would've been fine with a well-defended 2. So, his guys were hyper-aware of Murray leaking to the top of the key. And thus, Perkins' attempt was failed from the start.

"I'm trying to scream at them that the 2s don't beat you. Right? The 3s and fouls beat you," Shrewsberry said. "Once (Perkins) drove it and got deep into the paint, it was more, 'Let’s stay at home.' If he makes it, it’s a tie game. We get the ball, we get the last shot. Just stay home on those guys. I thought Seth did a good job of staying home.

"Because if Murray gets that ball, it’s going in. I’ve seen this story before."

An uphill climb from here, but there are encouraging signs

Iowa dropped to 8-6 overall and 0-3 in Big Ten play with even tougher games ahead − home Thursday against Indiana and Sunday at Rutgers. After a 6-1 start, Iowa has gone 2-5 since the calendar turned to December, with a 19-point home win against Iowa State being the one real positive development in the last month.

Penn State hit nine of its first 12 shots Sunday, as Iowa’s defense was passive and gave up too many easy looks.  Meantime, the poor shooting that crippled Iowa in the 66-50 loss at Nebraska (an inexplicable 19-for-73) continued with a 10-for-31 first half. Penn State’s 44-26 halftime lead was perfectly encapsulated by the banked-in 3-pointer from Funk as the shot clock was expiring.

While Iowa's slide continued, the Nittany Lions (11-3, 2-1 Big Ten) might be pretty good. They have a bona fide star in Pickett, who is playing at an all-conference level. The transfer from Siena scored 26 points with seven rebounds and six assists. Penn State has already gone on the road to beat Illinois, with its losses coming to Virginia Tech by two, Clemson in double overtime and home vs. Michigan State.

Iowa got 17 points and seven rebounds from Perkins, and Filip Rebraca added 13 points. The Hawkeyes scored 53 second-half points, the jolt their offense desperately needed. In their previous four halves, they had been outscored, 165-114, and were shooting 40-for-140 from the floor (28.6%), including 10-for-53 (18.9%) from 3-point range.

At least there were signs of life from the Hawkeyes in the final 20 minutes. Maybe that can be something to build on as they come home for four of their next five games.

"No question. We talked about that," McCaffery said. "I thought we were trying to fight (in the first half) but we were we weren't connected. And if you're not connected against (Penn State), it's going to be really hard. And that was proven. You get down 18. Twenty minutes is plenty of time. I thought our guys responded well.

“A 5-0 start to start the second half. Our defense was better, and our offense was better. I thought we moved the ball way better in the second half. Shared it. We found Kris early, we found him late.”

The stats bear that out. Iowa scored on 13 of 33 first-half possessions, averaging 0.788 points per trip. In the second half, Iowa was 12-for-15 from 2-point range and averaged 1.514 points per possession. Iowa scored on 24 of 35 trips, but drew blanks on the last two.

Jalen Pickett had 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists vs. the Hawkeyes on Sunday.

Kris Murray's foot looks fine; he played all 40 minutes

Murray connected on 8-of-13 second-half shot attempts on his way to his career-high points total. He probably was frustrated that he missed three second-half free throws, but that's understandable since he never came out of the game. The 6-foot-8 junior forward also finished with nine rebounds and three assists.

That's quite a performance in durability, considering he missed three weeks with a foot injury and just returned to action in Thursday's loss to Nebraska. Murray had 17 points to lead Iowa in that game, but he looked much more on a mission in this one. Murray scored 11 straight Iowa points in one stretch, canning three 3-pointers.

“I thought he played through contact. They obviously were focusing on him and doubling him, and if we got it to him inside, they were coming on him,” McCaffery said. “But he didn't rattle. He had 32 and nine.

“The other thing is, you sometimes take him for granted. But he's a really good defender. So when we didn’t have him and didn’t have Connor (McCaffery, against Eastern Illinois), they’re our two best wing defenders. So, you need both of those guys. Kris gives you somebody at both ends who is really special.”

Murray missed four games but looks to be ready to carry this team. He'll need help. Patrick McCaffery has been in a funk in the last two games (eight points, 2-for-15 shooting), and Payton Sandfort's struggles continued (zero points, 0-for-12 shooting in the last two). It was good to see Perkins get going.

Murray's season averages are up to 20.4 points and 9.8 rebounds as he returns home to face Indiana, a team he scored 29 against at Carver-Hawkeye Arena a year ago.

“Kris Murray is one of the best players in the country," Shrewsberry said. "I’m anxious to see where he gets drafted this June.”