Timely shooting, a spark from Patrick McCaffery lifts Iowa men's basketball past Rutgers

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY − A cold shooting night for Iowa men's basketball in a 63-61 loss at Michigan State on Thursday paved the way for a bounce-back game at home against Rutgers on Sunday.

Thursday's contest saw the Hawkeyes shoot just 3-of-17 from 3-point range. In Sunday's 93-82 victory, Iowa made eight 3-pointers in the first half alone.

The perimeter shooting went wayward in the second half, and that's when free throws became paramount. Iowa entered the foul bonus with more than 11 minutes to play and made 20-of-24 in the second half and 29-of-34 for the game. On Thursday, the Hawkeyes were 6-of-13 from the free-throw line.

Iowa's 93 points is the most that Rutgers, the Big Ten's No. 1 defense (averages 58 points allowed) has given up this season. Iowa started with three turnovers and 0-of-4 shooting in the opening minutes, then found an offensive rhythm as the game progressed.

Kris Murray led all scorers with 24 points, and Iowa received a major boost from Patrick McCaffery in his return game to get back to .500 (5-5) in Big Ten play.

"We were a little sloppy early," coach Fran McCaffery said. "I thought we really moved and shared (the ball) and drove it when we needed to. When you're playing a team that's long, athletic and plays defense, you have to put it on the deck and get to the free throw line. One way to get to 93 points is shooting 34 free throws."

A look at Patrick McCaffery in first game back

With Iowa (13-8 overall) a little disjointed at the 15:31 mark and trailing 10-7, Carver-Hawkeye Arena erupted as McCaffery checked into the game. The Hawkeyes' starting forward had not played in a game since Jan. 1 as he dealt with anxiety issues. Iowa immediately fed off of the home crowd's energy when he returned.

Murray buried a 3-pointer off a Connor McCaffery assist on the ensuing possession to tie the score. A few trips later Patrick McCaffery connected on his first shot attempt: a 3-pointer that gave the Hawkeyes a 15-14 lead, with brother Connor on the assist.

"That ovation meant a lot," Patrick McCaffery said. "It was a really emotional game, really emotional day and a really emotional couple of weeks."

Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery (22) dribbles during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game against Rutgers, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

In the middle of the second half, Patrick McCaffery provided another spark. The Hawkeyes were 0-of-3 from deep to start the half when McCaffery entered the game. He hit two straight 3-pointers to give Iowa a 68-58 advantage with 9:47 to play.

He played about 13 minutes and scored nine points with two rebounds and two assists. He'll likely stay in a bench role for a few more games while he continues to work on his conditioning. His return gives Iowa much-needed depth and perimeter shooting. Perhaps the most encouraging part of his return is that he didn't seem hesitant while on the court.

"As soon as he got in, he raised up a shot and didn't think about it," Fran McCaffery said. "Just really happy for him and really proud of how he's attacked this issue. He's been a great teammate and his teammates were great with him."

Iowa's offensive balance sparked Sunday's win

From the 8:47 mark in the first half, when a pair of Tony Perkins free throws gave Iowa a 19-18 advantage, the Hawkeyes didn't trail for the remainder of the game. Iowa's slow start in the first half turned into 53% shooting from the field in the last half of the first period, with particularly good shooting from deep.

By halftime, seven different Iowa players made at least one 3-pointer, and the team connected on 9-of-10 free throws.

"Once the shots started to fall, it gave us a lot of momentum," Kris Murray said. "Being able to get that momentum especially at home really helped."

Iowa's hot shooting from deep fizzled in the early part of the second half, allowing for Rutgers to cut what was a 13-point deficit. With the Hawkeyes up 68-58 with 9:47 to play, Rutgers responded with an 8-0 run in a little over a minute of game time to cut Iowa's double-digit advantage to just two points.

But the Hawkeyes never relinquished the lead, outscoring Rutgers by a 25-16 margin in the final nine minutes. And it was a collaborative effort, with five different players scoring: Murray, Perkins, Josh Dix, Connor McCaffery and Filip Rebraca. The balanced scoring effort was a consistent theme as six different players scored at least eight points on Sunday.

And it was another good day for starting point guard Ahron Ulis, who scored 14 points (third straight game with double-digit points) and just one turnover. His emergence coupled with Patrick McCaffery's return should result in more consistency from the Hawkeye offense.

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery, left, makes a 3-point basket as Rutgers guard Paul Mulcahy (4) defends during Sunday's game at Iowa City.

"That (balance) is something that we needed to have," Murray said. "(Teams) are going to try to take away me and (Rebraca) so having other guys step up and contribute was a good sign."

Sunday's win was exactly what Iowa needed, and the team has two more home games this week (Tuesday vs. Northwestern, Saturday vs. Illinois) to rise in the Big Ten standings. Tuesday's home game against Northwestern (8 p.m. on Big Ten Network) is the rescheduled Chris Street remembrance game, when Iowa will honor the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Hawkeye legend.