By Pat Harty
INDIANAPOLIS – As I watched sophomore guard Tony Perkins score 16 points in Friday’s victory over Rutgers in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, I tried to think of another Iowa player who has improved more during the course of a season.
But I drew a blank as nobody came to mind.
So many factors have contributed to Iowa’s late-season surge, which now stands at 10 wins in the last 12 games, but the rise of Perkins has to be near the top.
He has gone in the last month or so from being a role player off the bench who struggled to make shots to a force on both ends of the court.
Perkins made 6-of-9 field-goal attempts in Friday’s 84-74 victory over Rutgers, including 2-of-3 shots from 3-point range, while also playing his usual strong defense.
It marked the fourth time in the last six games that Perkins has scored in double figures.
And it’s probably no coincidence that his rise started when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery inserted Perkins in the starting lineup when the team was struggling in early February.
Iowa has since won 10 of its last 12 games with Perkins as a starter.
Perkins also has fully recovered from a shoulder injury that he says hindered his performance earlier in the season.
“Personally, you know, I had a shoulder injury, so that was on my mind a lot,” Perkins said of Friday’s victory, which improved Iowa’s record to 24-9 overall. “But now with that being done and me taking care of that has really boosted my confidence. Coach has always told me to play my game, do what you do. And I’m always willing to be out there and do what I got to do for us to win in any situation.”
Perkins has always been extremely confident as a Hawkeye, and he brings a swagger to the court.
But his shots weren’t falling earlier in the season, and his playing time suffered because of it.
Fran McCaffery still trusted his instincts and felt that making the 6-foot-4 Perkins a starter at shooting guard would help Iowa climb to another level.
Sixth-year senior Jordan Bohannon started the first 21 games at shooting guard, but he clearly wasn’t himself.
So, Fran McCaffery moved Bohannon back to point guard where he had played since he was a freshman, and made Perkins the starter at shooting guard.
Fran McCaffery now looks like a genius considering how well his team is playing since the changes were made.
Perkins also has extra incentive to play well in the conference tournament with it being held in his hometown of Indianapolis.
“A lot of people that see me through high school through now know what I can do, and now I’m able to bring it to the next level is big,” Perkins said “Knowing I’m playing in my home city and seeing everybody in the crowds that I know, grew up with, it really boosts my energy a lot. That’s pretty much it.”
Perkins was so effective in Friday’s game that he even made a basket despite the ball being knocked from his hands while taking a shot in the second half.
“Actually, I was shooting a floater and I got hit going up, so it kind of bobbled out once I shot the floater,” Perkins said. “I didn’t think it was going to go in, so I thought the chase and get a put-back, but it went in, so I’ll take it.”
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell was asked after Friday’s game how Perkins’ development has made Iowa a different team since Rutgers defeated the Hawkeyes 48-46 on Jan. 19 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
“Perkins can go downhill and get in the lane and make plays,” Pikiell said. “But they’ve got a lot of guys that can contribute. (Fran) plays a lot of guys. So this is a team that’s playing really well right now. I really thought we scored plenty of points to win. Our defense just was nowhere near it needed to be, 20 points in transition and then we gave up a zillion points from the foul line. So can’t beat a really good team like that, playing defense the way we did.
But Perkins’ is a really good player, and they’ve got a lot of really good players.”