Tony Perkins' career-high, strong guard play leads Iowa basketball past Maryland
With Maryland attempting a second-half comeback, Iowa guard Tony Perkins provided the spark that kept any upset hopes at bay.
An emphatic dunk at the 14:36 mark gave Perkins his career-high 21st point of the evening en route to a 22-point performance on Sunday. Two possessions later, the junior found Kris Murray for a wide-open 3-pointer that gave the Hawkeyes a 55-48 advantage. Maryland didn't get any closer for the remainder of the game and Iowa finished a strong week with a fourth straight win, 81-67. After a three-game losing streak to start the Big Ten slate, Iowa (12-6, 4-3) is over .500 in conference play.
The dunk served as an exclamation point for Perkins, who had been struggling during Iowa's three-game winning streak with a 6-for-28 shooting slump. Postgame, he said it was tough personally but used Sunday's game to return to his normal form.
"It was my goal to come in like that (on Sunday)," Perkins said. "I haven't been hitting a lot of shots, so I just said I was going to make moves, get to the rim and do what I can do best. Hit some pull-ups, just play my game and stop thinking a lot."
Perkins' best game of the season came at a much-needed time for Iowa and himself. The Hawkeyes were without Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca for most of the first half due to foul trouble, which opened the door for 15 first-half points for Perkins, the perfect way to end a recent slump.
"This was a good game for Tony," said coach Fran McCaffery. "He just went after it. Great job finishing (at the rim), his pull-up jumper, I'm really proud of him. (During last Thursday's Michigan game) I went with the other group (without Perkins) that was cooking and with Tony and (fellow guard Ahron Ulis) I reeled them back in and said 'Look, you're our guys, just be ready for the next one."
Murray led the team with 17 second-half points on the way to 19 for the game. While it wasn't a big game by his standards, the coaching staff and fans will gladly take a breakout game from the supporting cast. And in a matter of 10 days, Iowa's gone from winless (0-3) in Big Ten play to the fifth place spot with a 4-3 record.
"I think it shows the confidence that we're playing with," said forward Connor McCaffery. "Obviously the goal down the stretch of the Big Ten season, and when we're not down the stretch yet, but we want to be clicking on all cylinders as we as we hit this home stretch. The more that we can get on the floor with different lineups, play with different people, the better that we'll be able to continue on our win streak."
Perkins wasn't the only guard who had a standout performance.
Fellow starting guard Ahron Ulis also entered Sunday in a slump, shooting just 4-for-24 in Big Ten play, but his 7 points, three rebounds and three assists in the first half helped give Iowa a 10-point lead at halftime. He finished with 9 points, four rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes, and didn't record a turnover. Shortly after the game, Perkins and Ulis embraced on the court as the starters both had bounce-back games.
"If one of us has a bad game I'll talk to him or him to me," Perkins said. "We come together because we were roommates so we know when something's off. Coming into (Sunday) we talked and said that we didn't play that well last game or get the minutes we wanted, if we want those minutes we have to bring what we're used to, and that's what we did."
But the Hawkeye who led the team in assists was freshman Josh Dix, who racked up five in the first half alone. Dix, who recently started playing more point guard in practice, saw nearly 16 minutes of game action on Sunday. Widely known as a good shooter and scorer, Dix flashed his playmaking ability against Maryland. His usage moving forward will be something to watch after back-to-back strong performances.
"He makes plays for other people," Fran McCaffery said. "And those guys are so incredibly valuable."
Overall, Iowa executed at a high level on Sunday afternoon
One team statistic that stands out is that Iowa held Maryland without any fast break points Sunday. Part of that is attributed to only committing nine turnovers, despite Maryland being a strong defensive press team; but also because Iowa shot 60% from the field for the game.
"They get a lot of points typically, off of live ball turnovers and bad shots," Fran McCaffery said. "We didn't do that. I don't remember saying to myself 'that was a terrible shot.'"
Even without Murray and Rebraca, the Hawkeyes' top two scorers, Iowa was able to not only maintain a first-half lead but extend it. And the first half provided an interesting wrinkle, a de-facto all-guard lineup with Dasonte Bowen, Perkins, Dix, Payton Sandfort and Connor McCaffery who served as the center.
"I thought we pushed the ball really well because we were smaller and maybe a little bit more athletic," Connor McCaffery said. "We were getting up and down just with speed and didn't really have a post in there, so there's a lot of room to drive because there was an open post."
Murray and Rebraca combined for only 23 points. Conversely, fellow starters Connor McCaffery, Perkins and Ulis shot a combined 18-for-26 from the field, while Sandfort continued to play well with 12 points and seven rebounds.
But where Iowa took the biggest step was on the defensive end, holding Maryland to just 67 points. Currently, the Hawkeyes are last in the Big Ten in points allowed (72.4).
Connor McCaffery was an early catalyst with two steals that led to a pair of Iowa baskets. The team forced seven turnovers leading to 11 points in the first half. Iowa won the rebounding battle for the fourth straight game (30-27) and kept Maryland from having many second-chance opportunities.
There were a few rough patches, most notably the opening sequence in the second half when an 8-0 Maryland run cut Iowa's 43-33 halftime lead to just 2 points. McCaffery said that'll be a point of emphasis in the postgame film sessions. But after a lackluster performance against Michigan last Thursday, this was a positive step forward.
"Other than that, I really thought we were good," Connor McCaffery said. "We were tough, I thought we guarded pretty well. The only thing throughout the rest of the game we probably could have done better was keep (Maryland guard Jahmir Young) from getting left because he really is tough going downhill. But I think getting consecutive stops, that's how you extend leads and that's what we did."