Iowa probably doesn’t beat Wisconsin on Sunday without Keegan Murray
Iowa's 6-8 freshman forward plays huge role in 77-73 victory over Badgers on Senior Day
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – On a day when Iowa honored its record-breaking senior class, it was a soft-spoken and unheralded freshman from Cedar Rapids with Hawkeye bloodlines who helped save the day.
Because without 6-foot-8 forward Keegan Murray’s contributions on both offense and defense, Iowa might not have had enough to hang on to defeat Wisconsin 77-73 on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The son of former Iowa basketball player Kenyon Murray finished with 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the victory.
Keegan Murray’s biggest rebound came on a missed free throw by Connor McCaffery with 44.8 seconds remaining, and with the score even at 71. Keegan quickly called for a timeout before falling out bounds, giving his team a chance to regroup.
“Before the shot I knew I was going to be isolated,” Keegan Murray said. “It was just going to be me and whoever was boxing me out. I just felt like I could get around him pretty well. I knew what if I got the rebound I would have a kick out, but I lost my balance so I had to call a timeout. It ended up being pretty good for the end of the game.”
Murray also made two critical free throws late in the second half after he and Wisconsin guard Brad Davison became entangled, and Davison was called for a flagrant foul.
Keegan Murray has been a solid contributor throughout the season, using his versatility, athleticism and court awareness to make plays on both offense and defense.
He now might have to play a more substantial role with Joe Wieskamp’s status day-to-day. Wieskamp suffered a right lower leg injury with about 8 minutes left in the first half of Sunday’s game and didn’t return.
Wieskamp returned to the Iowa bench for the second half with his right lower leg in a boot.
Iowa struggled at times without Wieskamp in the second half, but Keegan Murray and his cohorts did just enough to prevail without their second leading scorer.
And remember, 6-11 sophomore forward Jack Nunge is also out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. So Keegan Murray will have a significant role in the postseason, which will start on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Keegan Murray credits meditation for helping him stay composed on the court.
“I just try to keep a level head,” he said. “I’ve been doing meditation. That’s really helped me a lot to keep a level head. At the end of the day, I’ve been able to compose myself down the stretch, make free throws when we needed them, just make plays down the stretch when our team needed them.”
Keegan Murray’s father was a defensive standout at Iowa, but Kenyon Murray also scored 1,230 points as a Hawkeye.
Fran McCaffery said at media day in October that Keegan Murray would contribute right away because of his ability to defend and rebound.
And while Keegan certainly has contributed in those two areas, his offensive game continues to evolve and show promise.
Should Keegan Murray ever become a consistent 3-point shooter, watch out because that would make him so much harder to defend.
What makes Keegan Murray really special, though, is his ability to do the little things that often go unnoticed, things like help defense and blocking shots as a help defender, clogging passing lanes and shutting down the baseline.
Those things often are the difference between winning and losing.
Keegan Murray and his twin brother and Iowa teammate Kris Murray both grew up in Cedar Rapids wanting to be Iowa basketball players, just like their father, but it didn’t come easy.
Neither garnered much attention on the recruiting trail at Cedar Rapids Prairie, so they attended a prep school in Florida for one year to improve their stock, and it worked.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery felt they both improved enough to offer them scholarships, and that decision is now paying huge dividends.
Kris Murray’s day will come, too.
His game is built more around being a perimeter shooting, but Iowa has multiple veteran shooters right now.
What Iowa needs is his brother’s all-around game, and that was apparent on Sunday.
The day started with Iowa’s senior class being honored, and what a senior class it is with Luka Garza as the all–time leading scorer in program history, and with point guard Jordan Bohannon as the all-time leader is assists and 3-point field goals made.
They certainly did their part on Sunday as Garza scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, while Bohannon finished with 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Bohannon also made all five of his free throw attempts, including three late in the second half.
But without Wieskamp for much of Sunday’s game, Iowa needed someone else to step up and Keegan Murray rose to the occasion, like he has so often this season.