Weird but true: the last time Iowa men's basketball played a Saturday home game -- non-conference or conference -- was before most of us even knew what COVID-19 was. No, really -- February 29, 2020. Coincidentally enough, Iowa's opponent in that game? Penn State, the same team they played in the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena today. In front of a sellout crowd, Iowa got back on track on Saturday, riding some solid defense and a strong second half to an easy 68-51 win.
Iowa started out hot on offense, making five of their first eight shots and opening up a 14-7 lead five and a half minutes into the game. Unfortunately, the offense cooled off after that; they scored just 16 points over the final 14 minutes of the first half, and shooting just 7/19 (37%) from the floor. Fortunately, Penn State didn't shoot very well in the first half, either, making just 9/26 (35%) of their tries. As a result Iowa led 30-25 heading into the break.
The second half went much better for Iowa, as they outscored Penn State 38-26 to cruise to victory. They managed that despite not shooting the ball well in the second half either, just 37% (10/27) from the floor and 29% (5/14) from 3-point range. So how'd they manage to pull away from the Nittany Lions? A few things: Penn State was even worse shooting the ball (32% overall, 25% 3FG) and Iowa was just a little bit better than them in every shooting category (Iowa made two more field goals voerall, two more three-pointers, and six more free throws). Iowa also crushed them on the glass, out-rebounding them 27-12 overall and 10-3 on the offensive glass. They turned those offensive boards into nine second chance points, but more importantly they just gave themselves a few more opportunities on the offensive end -- and denied Penn State any chances.
Keegan Murray led Iowa in scoring with 15 points, but this was not one of his best games of the season. He's had many games this year where it looked easy for him to score 20+; that was not the case today -- he had to labor to get to 15 points. He had just 5 points on 2/5 shooting in the first half. But the story of the game was the Murray Bros. double act in the second half, which keyed Iowa's big runs and led to the dominant win. Keegan and Kris combined for 20 points in the second half, including a decisive stretch where they scored 17 of 19 Iowa points as the Hawkeyes pushed the lead into double-digits and took firm control of the game. They shot just 4/10 combined from the field in the second half, but did plenty of damage on the free throw line, where they were a combined 9/12 in the second half. The Murrays also had six rebounds, two assists, and three steals in the final 20 minutes. Go Murrays Awesome, as always.
Kris Murray was part of a much-improved effort from Iowa's bench. After posting 0 points against Rutgers on Wednesday, they bounced back with 19 points here. Aside from Kris' 13 points, Tony Perkins added four points (and four rebounds) and Ahron Ulis had two points. Aside from the Murrays, Iowa also got double-figures scoring performances from Patrick McCaffery (11 points on 4/9 shooting, plus 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks) and Jordan Bohannon (11 points on 3/8 shooting). Filip Rebraca had another pretty solid effort, with 8 points (on 4/5 shooting) and 5 rebounds, while Joe Toussaint had 4 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds.
The other thing to talk about from this game is... Iowa's defense? Yes, really. Iowa's defensive effort was the only silver lining in the loss to Rutgers and they played another strong defensive game here too. In fact, Iowa's last two games have featured the lowest point total for an Iowa opponent in the last five seasons.
.@IowaHoops' fewest points allowed in B1G games, last 5 seasons— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) January 22, 2022
48 - at Rutgers
51 - vs. Penn State
52 - 12/9/19 vs. Minnesota
55 - 2/16/20 at Minnesota & 12/22/20 vs. Purdue pic.twitter.com/TnfCcZLXZd
Has there been an element of good fortune in these last two games? Sure. Rutgers and Penn State have both had some open looks just clang off the rim and just plain miss more than a few shots around the rim. But Iowa's defensive effort overall has still been much improved these past two games. They've been a little bit better at contesting shots, a little bit at denying lanes to the basket, a little bit better at closing out on three-pointers -- and those are encouraging signs. This obviously isn't a great defense and they're not going to be a great defense, but if they can play with good effort on the defensive end -- for a full 40 minutes of the game -- they'll certainly put themselves in position to win a lot of games, too.
This win was Iowa's third in their last four games and improved their record to 14-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. It was good to flush that terrible Rutgers game from earlier in the week and get back on the winning path -- especially with Purdue coming to town on Thursday. We'll worry about that game in a few days, though -- for now it's just nice to have another dub to celebrate. Go Hawks.
NEXT: #4 Purdue visits Iowa City on Thursday, January 27 (8 PM CT, FS1).