There's a moment in noted cinematic classic Bloodsport where Helmer, one of the federal agents tasked with keeping track of Frank Dux (aka, Jean-Claude Van Damme), watches Dux show off his martial arts prowess and kick some ass. His response? "I'm just glad you're on our side, kid."
I feel that way watching Keegan Murray hoop for Iowa most nights this year. Just completely and profoundly grateful that he chose to attend Iowa, that he chose to bust his ass to get better since he's been here, and that he has blossomed into such an incredible player this season. Because, lordy, I have no idea where Iowa would be this year without him, but it definitely wouldn't be anywhere good.
Murray ripped off nine points in under four minutes to start the game, scoring on a pair of transition dunks, a put-back layup, and a three-pointer. That was an early sign that, yeah, this was gonna be one of those nights for Keegan Murray.
He finished the first half with 16 points (on 7/13 shooting, 2/3 from long range) and 3 rebounds, 3 blocks, and an assist. Pretty good numbers! And then he was even better in the second half, going off for 19 points (on 7/8 shooting, including 3/3 from behind the arc!), 5 rebounds, and a steal. Just incredible, outrageous, amazing stuff.
His performance in the first half or the second half by itself would be a very good game for most players; instead we got both of them. Did he sink the biggest shot of the game? Of course he did, nailing a put-back jumper with a second left on the shot clock to give Iowa a 6-point lead with 30 seconds to play.
And Iowa, uh, needed every bit of Murray's 35 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks to win this game because he didn't get a whole lot of help from his teammates, especially in the first half. The only other Iowa player in double figures in scoring was Filip Rebraca, who had 13 points and 8 rebounds on 6/8 shooting. As a team, Iowa shot 49% from the floor, 40% from long range, and 63% at the free throw line (woof), though their numbers were better in the second half (56-50-71) as they built a lead and held off the Terps down the stretch.
Jordan Bohannon had 8 points overall and 5 in the second half -- all at the free throw line, where he was 5/6. He was just 1/5 from the floor (1/4 from deep). Joe Toussaint couldn't score in the first half (2 points on 1/4 shooting), but he could dish the ball well (six assists) and did a particularly nice job of getting the ball to Keegan and letting him cook. Toussaint had three more assists in the second half, but also found his shooting rhythm (7 points on 3/4 shooting), mainly by seeming to realize that he was just... faster... than the guys trying to guard him and zipping by them on the way to a layup at the rim. Toussaint's energy was a key factor in Iowa turning things around in the second half, which made it pretty baffling that he got substituted with eight minutes to go and just... didn't return. For the rest of the game. Did Fran just forget about him?
While Iowa didn't get much from the bench in this game (just 10 points), Tony Perkins provided a much-needed spark in the second half, scoring all six of his points after the break and also getting two rebounds, two assists, and a steal in his 10 second half minutes. He had the third-highest +/- rating of any Iowa player in the second half (+8), behind Rebraca (+10) and Keegan (+9). When Iowa finally took control of the game in the second half (after several ties and lead changes), it was with Perkins on the floor and providing some juice on both ends of the court.
Was it the prettiest win overall? Heavens no. Are there still plenty of areas of concern for this Iowa team in Big Ten play? Absolutely. Maryland got back in the game when they took control of the glass; they out-rebounded Iowa 22-16 overall and 8-6 in offensive boards in the first half. The second half was more even: Iowa out-rebounded them 18-16 and both teams had five offensive rebounds. Iowa doesn't necessarily need to win the rebounding battle every game, but they absolutely have to keep it close at least. The defensive effort by Iowa had its ups and downs in the game; there were still too many breakdowns that led Terps run clean at the basket or get off open jumpers, although they cleaned that up for a few stretches during the game. And the lack of a remotely consistent second or third scoring option is definitely a concern. It's probably not sustainable to have "go score 30+ points, Keegs" be your gameplan in the Big Ten, night in and night out, although it will probably be entertaining to watch Murray try to do that game after game.
And, really, that's all anyone is likely to remember from this game: the quiet, steady excellence of Keegan Murray, who had a casually dominant 35 points here. Do we want to watch all of his made baskets again? Of course we do.
You really get an appreciation for Keegan's all-around game when you watch one of his reels.— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) January 4, 2022
See all his baskets from tonight's 35-point effort .@keegan3murray // @IowaHoops pic.twitter.com/wVRe7Rnrzi
Go Keegan Awesome.
NEXT: Iowa heads to Madison to take on #23 Wisconsin (11-2, 2-1 Big Ten) on Thursday, January 6 at 8 PM CT (FS1).