Iowa men climb above .500 in Big Ten with 98-75 drubbing of lowly Nebraska
Keegan Murray leads the way with career-high 37 points
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It took a while for him to get going, but Keegan Murray showed his greatness again on Sunday as the Iowa men’s basketball team crushed Nebraska 98-75 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Murray, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, and the son of former Iowa basketball player Kenyon Murray, scored 24 of his career-high 37 points in the first half as Iowa led 53-25 at the break.
He also made quite an impression on Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, who called Keegan Murray the most versatile player in the Big Ten.
“I just saw Kenyon and I told him good thing he got his skill and athleticism from his mother,” Hoiberg joked with the media after the game. “The size and athleticism, he’s the most versatile player in our league. You talk about three-level scorers, he is the true definition of that. He is a guy that can get in the post. He beat us down the floor consistently tonight where he got deep post position.
“We tried a couple different guys on him. We put size on him and he got us on the perimeter. And we put a guard on him and tried to get into him and he got us in the post. Just a very difficult cover, and obviously, a kid playing in an incredible rhythm.”
Keegan Murray has scored at least 30 points in back-to-back games as he finished with 30 in last Thursday’s 110-87 victory at Maryland.
He set a career-high for points in Sunday’s victory despite not scoring for over five minutes to begin the game.
Nebraska was leading 15-11 in the first half when Keegan Murray essentially took the game over on offense.
“If I miss a shot I just feel like the next one is going to go in,” Keegan Murray said. “I’m not hesitant at all to shoot the basketball. I try to get to my spots, and I try to get into the paint as much as I can, and look for open jump shots along the three-point line.
“For me, on the offensive end, it’s just get our team going. If we’re struggling a little bit offensively, I’m going to try and get easy baskets whether that’s in transition or just in the post or off the dribble.”
As impressive as Keegan Murray was against the struggling Cornhuskers, he was hardly a solo act.
Junior point guard Joe Toussaint came off the bench and provided a spark on both ends of the court with his quickness, toughness and tenacity. He only scored two points, but he led Iowa with four assists and with three steals.
Toussaint could’ve easily pouted or responded poorly to losing his starting position after having made 21 consecutive starts this season.
But that would be totally out of character for the Bronx, New York native.
Toussaint is a team-first guy, and is greatly admired by his teammates and coaches, and it’s easy to see why with how he has handled losing his starting position.
“I’m really proud of him and I didn’t expect anything different from him,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “He’s always been a character guy. He’s always given us everything he has every day, not just in the game.
Toussaint had all three of his steals in the first half when Iowa started to pull away.
“His defense and his activity in that stretch was really impactful,” Fran McCaffery said.
Freshman guard Payton Sandfort also played well off the bench Sunday, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the first half.
Sandfort had been struggling recently to get playing time, but his ability to make perimeter shots is something Iowa needs. The Waukee native also has eight rebounds in Sunday’s game.
Sandfort credited Fran McCaffery for helping him stay positive during the tough stretches.
“I totally understand that it’s really tough to get minutes as a freshman in this league and I really wasn’t doing anything to earn those minutes at the time,” Sandfort said. “Fran has always been super good with me and talked me through it and helped me remain positive.”
Iowa with the victory climbed above .500 in the Big Ten for the first time this season at 7-6 and improved to 17-7 overall, while Nebraska fell to 7-18 and 1-13 in the Big Ten.
Fran McCaffery said Saturday morning that he wasn’t worried about his team having a letdown against Nebraska.
He apparently knows his team very well because instead of having a letdown, Iowa overcame a sluggish start and then started to pull away from Nebraska about midway through the first half.
Iowa did become complacent down the stretch in the second half and Fran McCaffery tore into in his players during a timeout with 7 minutes, nine seconds left to play, and with Iowa leading 82-61.
“He really just wanted us to keep getting better,” Sandfort said. “In those minutes it can be really hard to keep playing your game because the last couple games we’ve been up so big and we kind of get complacent and start taking some bad shots and really don’t try as much on defense.
“So he’s telling us we’ve got bigger goals down the line. We’ve got to keep playing to get better in these last eight minutes to keep going towards our goals.”
Iowa has won three games in a row, but the competition will get tougher on Thursday when Michigan comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa will then travel to Columbus, Ohio to face Ohio State on Saturday in a game that was rescheduled. The teams were supposed to play on Jan. 3 in Columbus, but that game was postponed due to dangerous weather conditions.