The holiday season is a time for indulging, for gobbling down some of those delicious-looking sweets and treats. The new year is fast approaching and you can rededicate yourself to eating right, working out, and getting in shape then. For now, you can indulge in a few snacks. For Iowa basketball, that means polishing off one last non-conference cupcake before they enter the "eating their vegetables and going to the gym four days a week" portion of their schedule, aka Big Ten play. And Iowa made sure to enjoy their final cupcake, devouring Western Illinois 92-71 before turning their attention to league action soon.
Western Illinois had a better record than your typical cupcake at 10-3 entering this game, but four of those wins came over teams ranked in the 300s in the KenPom rankings and two more came against non-Division I opponents. So they had been feasting on some weaker competition themselves. The fact that the Leathernecks owned a Big Ten win already this season was eyebrow-raising... at least until you saw that it came against Nebraska, who once again appears locked into the anchor position of the Big Ten. Still, WIU was good enough to spring an upset -- or at least make Iowa sweat for a while -- if the Hawkeyes tried to sleepwalk through this game or if their offense was sluggish. Fortunately, the offense was decidedly not sluggish.
Iowa's offense was a house afire in the first half especially; they scored 53 points on 58% shooting (21/36), including 50% (5/10) from long range. Western Illinois couldn't keep up, mainly because they couldn't make threes in the opening 20 minutes. They shot 38% overall (14/37), but were particularly ice cold from long range (just 16%, 3/19, on three-point tries). That wasn't going to work against a hot-shooting Iowa team, especially when they were getting roasted on fast break points (17-0 in favor of Iowa) and when Iowa was controlling the glass (a 23-15 advantage in rebounding). WIU sort of hung with Iowa for the opening 10 minutes of the game -- Iowa led the entire way, but there was a lot of bucket-trading and the lead stayed in the 4-8 point range for a while, but over a six-minute run from the eight-minute mark to the two-minute mark, Iowa went on a 26-12 run that fully broke the game open. They took a 53-33 lead into halftime and the lead more or less stayed in that range for the entire second half; the closest the Leathernecks got was 13 points on a few occasions. There was extended chips and salsa time in this one.
Top Dunks From Tonight pic.twitter.com/cJGeEffpiq— Iowa Mens Basketball (@IowaHoops) December 30, 2021
Your standout performer was -- who else? -- Keegan Murray. Murray was brilliant as Iowa built its lead in the first half, putting up 18 points and 8 rebounds on 8/13 shooting, including 1/3 from 3-point range. He also had three steals, three assists, and a block, essentially producing an entire game's worth of stats in just 19 minutes. He was quieter in the second half -- just 11 points (on 5/7 shooting), 2 rebounds, and 2 blocks -- but he still wound up with 29 points 10 rebounds, three steals, three assists, and three blocks, which is a pretty exceptional game by anyone's standards. He continues to dominate in the post and is an absolute runaway train in transition. The defenses are going to get much, much tougher from here on out, but Keegan Murray has proved that he is one hell of a top option to have on offense.
Murray was one of three Hawkeyes in the starting lineup who finished with double figures in scoring. Jordan Bohannon had 13 points, despite going just 1/6 from 3-point range; he was 2/3 on 2-point tries and also drained all six free throws that he attempted. Patrick McCaffery also had 11 points on 4/8 shooting, along with three rebounds, two blocks, and an assist. Payton Sandfort was the star of Iowa's second unit, popping off for 13 points on 5/7 shooting (3/3 from behind the arc) and adding five rebounds as well. He's a good, quick shooting motion and he was very much in rhythm tonight, which made him a great weapon for Iowa when he was on the floor. Kris Murray added 6 points and 4 rebounds from the bench, while Ahron Ulis had a very nice overall game, with 7 points, a team-high 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. Tony Perkins only had four points, but he did have one vicious dunk:
There's not too much else to say about this game. Iowa was an 18.5 point favorite in this game and they dutifully covered the spread and never really had to sweat the outcome. It was good to see the offense clicking (especially in the first half) and it was nice to see them handling a weaker opponent with ease, but games like this also don't tell us too much about how Iowa will fare in Big Ten play. But Iowa handled their business with a minimum of fuss; there's plenty of value in being able to do that, so we'll choose to enjoy that for the time being and worry about Big Ten play when it comes (next week).
NEXT: Iowa hosts Maryland (7-4, 0-1 B1G) on Monday, January 3 (8 PM CT, BTN) as Big Ten play gets fully underway.