#5 Iowa 89, Maryland 67: Turtle Soup

By RossWB on January 7, 2021 at 10:25 pm
go hawks go
© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Reprising "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" is a pretty hack writing trope, and yet it's also an incredibly apt way to sum up this performance from the #5 Iowa Hawkeyes in their win over Maryland tonight. The first five or so minutes were among the worst Iowa has played this entire season -- ugly looks and bad misses on offense, lazy defense with sluggish switching and little pressure. But the next thirty or so minutes? 

Hot damn

That stretch was some of the best basketball Iowa has played all season -- and considering some of the games Iowa has already played this year and some of the runs we've seen them put together, that's certainly saying something. But it's true: after digging out of that early hole, Iowa absolutely nuked Maryland on both ends of the floor, ultimately strolling to an easy 89-67 victory. Yes, an easy-as-you-please 22-point win on the road in the Big Ten. This certainly isn't the Big Ten-contending Maryland teams of the past few seasons, but to see an Iowa team just dominate the game and spend basically the entire second half in cruise control in a road game is still damn impressive to see. 

But backing up to that terrible start for a minute. How bad was it? Well, it was "Fran took two timeouts in five minutes"-levels of bad. Seriously: Fran took two timeouts in the first five minutes of the game! Fran is not exactly known for his liberal usage of timeouts. But he was displayed with the early effort Iowa was showing and he let them hear it in some paint-peeling rants. 

Whatever he said in the second timeout worked to a degree no one could have anticipated. Down 19-9, Iowa went on a 20-0 run -- yes, TWENTY TO ZERO -- that gave them the lead and, effectively, complete control of the game. Though the 20-0 run ended, Iowa's dominance didn't really flag the rest of the first half -- all told they ended the half on a ridiculous 35-7 run  and led 44-26 at the break. 18-point leads at halftime aren't quite chips 'n' salsa time, but they're damn close, especially with an Iowa team that was playing like this. 

The most remarkable part of that 20-0 run might have been the players that jumpstarted Iowa. After the starters got off to a sluggish start, Fran turned to the second unit -- and they were absolute gangbusters. Jack Nunge, Joe Toussaint, and Keegan Murray were the sparkplugs for Iowa's turnaround and they gave Iowa tremendous minutes in the first half. After Connor McCaffery hit a 3 (!) to trim Iowa's lead to three, Nunge and Murray really took over, particularly Nunge. He hit another three to cut Iowa's deficit to 19-15, then dished to Keegan Murray on a slick out-of-bounds play to set up a dunk, and followed that with a layup of his own a minute later to tie the game at 19-19. Patrick McCaffery, another second unit superstar, hit a jumper to give Iowa a 21-19 lead that was both its first of the game and a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. 

But the second unit (plus Luka Garza) kept balling the rest of the second half, as CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp stayed glued to the bench. And it worked! Iowa's energy level to start the game was somewhere around "sub-catatonic;" inserting Nunge, Keegan, JoeT, and P-Mac gave Iowa a lot of juice and they made the most of it. Nunge's performances have been up and down in recent weeks, but he gave Iowa some very good minutes tonight and finished with 5 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal. Toussaint was an absolute menace on defense, racking up an absurd six (!) steals in 15 minutes, to go with 4 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist. Toussaint had four steals in the first half and his swipes were a big part of Iowa's dominant run. Patrick McCaffery had one of his best games in an Iowa uniform as well, scoring 10 points and adding two rebounds and an assist as well. More impressive was how comfortable he looked, though: he was 4/6 from the floor and 2/2 from long range and his shots all looked good. That hasn't always been the case for him this season, but it was true tonight. 

And what more can be said about Keegan Murray? We've fawned over him in several games this season, but we keep doing it because his play keeps warranting it. He's the biggest surprise of the season and becoming more and more indispensable with every game he plays. He finished with 12 points (on 6/9 shooting, including a trio of dunks), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal, as well as his usual armful of hustle plays. His basketball instincts are off the chart and his ability to be be in the right place at the right time so often is remarkable, especially for a player with his level of experience (or lack thereof). Watching Keegan Murray play ball is fun, fun, fun.

He was so good, the Terps should have to call themselves Murrayland after this one, as one of the fine folks in our Discord server opined during the game. 

Iowa also welcomed Connor McCaffery back to the lineup tonight and, my goodness, what a difference he makes. The elder McCaffery boy had six points (on a pair of 3s) and five rebounds, but as usual the story of his game was his delicious passing, with its pinpoint accuracy and feathery touch. McCaffery finished the game with 10 (!) assists and zero turnovers, an astounding margin. He creates so many good and easy looks for his teammates with that passing and sets up Iowa's offense beautifully. Seriously, just look at this passing: 

Of course, we'd be remiss to not mention Iowa's senior studs and tonight's leading scorers, Luka Garza and Jordan Bohannon. Garza continued to wreak havoc on Big Ten defenses, finishing with 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in a very complete performance. He had 17 points in the first half and if you can have a quiet 17-point half, it seemed like he did. But perhaps we're just spoiled by the brilliance that he provides on a regular basis. The four assists he dished out were one of the most exciting parts of his game tonight -- the more he can punish teams for trying to smother him with double teams, the more dangerous Iowa's offense will be.

And Bohannon continued his molten-hot shooting in January; he finished with 18 points on 6/9 shooting (nice) from downtown -- some of the shots from way downtown, as his often the case with JBo. He's now 9/14 from deep in January and 15/23 in his last three games. A sweet-shooting Bohannon is like adding a flaming chainsaw to Iowa's rolling ball of knives offense. You really do love to see it. 

Hell, even Iowa's defense was good in this game after that opening funk. Iowa's zone appeared to completely flummox the Terps in the first half and they settled for a lot of jump shots, most of which were very badly missed. For the game, Iowa held the Terps to 0.91 points per possession, which is an excellent figure for Iowa. Granted, not many teams may fall off a cliff quite as hard as Maryland did in the first half of this game, but we've seen Iowa get torched in Big Ten road games -- often by complete randos -- to not respect a solid defensive performance when we get it. 

When Iowa plays like they did for most of the game tonight, they are a wildly fun team to watch. The ball flowed beautifully, the passing was crisp, the shooting was sharp, the defense was effective. This was a good team playing extremely well. And doing that in a Big Ten road game, no less? Even sweeter. Now it's time to head back home to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and avenge the only Big Ten loss of the season so far, with Minnesota coming to town on Sunday (1:30 PM CT, BTN)

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