By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A night that started with Jordan Bohannon being honored for becoming the Big Ten’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals quickly turned into another stat-sheet stuffing performance by Keegan Murray.
This is getting to be almost like a rerun as the 6-foot-8 Murray continues to score points at an astonishing pace.
It’s like watching Luka Garza all over again from a productivity standpoint as Murray scored 29 points in 21 minutes to help Iowa crush Western Michigan 109-61 on Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Murray also scored the first 17 points for Iowa and outscored Western Michigan 22-20 in the first half.
Murray’s offensive game is different than how the 6-11 Garza used to score for the Hawkeyes.
But the results are the same.
Iowa improved to 5-0 on the season and has yet to be seriously challenged with exception to an 86-69 victory over North Carolina Central that was close for about three quarters of the game.
Murray has gone from being a very effective role player as part of Garza’s supporting cast last season to an emerging star.
The son of former Iowa basketball player Kenyon Murray wasn’t asked to score much last season with Garza and former all-Big Ten wingman Joe Wieskamp leading the way offensively.
But with Iowa having to replace four of its biggest offensive threats from last season, it was important that somebody help to pick up the scoring slack, and so far, Keegan Murray has done that in spectacular fashion.
“It’s just something I work on, all the offseason work that I put in has just let me be able to do different things on the court and you saw that today,” Keegan Murray said. “My teammates just have the ultimate confidence in me and they just gave me the ball in the right spots and at the right moments and I was able to produce.
“So kudos to them.”
The question now is whether he can keep it up once the competition improves.
Iowa’s next game is against Portland State on Friday, but then three days later the Hawkeyes will play at Virginia next Monday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Iowa will then face Purdue in the Big Ten opener next Friday in West Lafayette, Ind.
Those two games should tell way more about this Iowa team than the five blowouts that have occurred this season.
Should Keegan Murray continue to score points at his current pace, he will be showered with numerous postseason awards before probably heading to the NBA as a sophomore.
Murray has a mid-range game on offense that just keeps evolving. He also can score facing the basket and from 3-point range.
And if he improves as a 3-point shooter, then watch out because his upside would be huge.
What’s even more impressive about Keegan Murray’s performance is that he doesn’t hunt for shots, and rarely takes a bad shot.
He operates within the framework of the offense and uses his length and athleticism to get open looks.
“He never forces the issue, but obviously we need him to be the way he is now, said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “He accepts whatever it is we ask him to do.”
There is also more to Keegan Murray’s game than just scoring as evidenced by him grabbing 21 rebounds and blocking four shots against North Carolina Central.
He showed last season that he could defend and rebound at a high level, and now he’s showing that he can be a force on offense.
His twin brother Kris Murray also has shown signs that he could help on offense, including scoring 12 points off the bench in Monday’s game.
Freshman forward Payton Sandfort and sophomore guard Tony Perkins each reached double figures for the second time this season. Sandfort netted 19 points, while Perkins had 15 points. Sandfort knocked down five 3-pointers for the second straight game.
Sophomore Ahron Ulis also had a career-high eight assists and Iowa finished with 15 steals.
So Keegan Murray is far from a solo act, but he is without question the new face of this Iowa team, much like Garza was the face of the previous two Iowa teams.
Keegan Murray knows that he has to be more assertive on offense this season and it’s showing in the way he plays. He has now combined to score 131 points in five games.
He is also one of two players from a major conference to start the season with at least 24 points in each of their first five games, the other being former Kansas State forward Michael Beasley in 2007-08.
“It’s just being aggressive,” Keegan Murray said. “Last year, I was obviously playing a different role and this year I just wanted to be more assertive on the offensive end and use my abilities as much as I can.
“And I’ve just been getting more and more confident throughout these first five games in myself and also my teammates. And I just think me being assertive and my teammates being assertive on offense is a big thing for us.”
This is Keegan Murray’s second season in the Iowa program. but he and his twin brother also spent one year at a prep school in Florida after having graduated from Cedar Rapids Prairie.
The year in prep school was when both Murray brothers showed Fran McCaffery that they could play at the Big Ten level.
And now less than three years later, Keegan Murray is showing that he can be a star at this level.