Payton Sandfort puts on quite a show for NBA scouts watching Kris Murray
Sophomore guard scores 22 points in 76-65 win in Piscataway
By Everett Merrill
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey – There were roughly a dozen NBA scouts at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Sunday afternoon, primarily to watch Iowa’s Kris Murray. But it was sophomore shooting guard Payton Sandfort who filled the box score off the bench in the Hawkeyes 76-65 wire-to-wire win over Rutgers.
Sandfort, who has struggled with his shooting this season, poured in 22 points in 22 minutes, while contributing five rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and one steal in Iowa’s second straight win. The 6-7 Sandfort, from Waukee, Iowa, was 6-of-8 from the field, including four-of-five from 3-point range.
The 22 points are the most by Sandfort in a Big Ten game this season and two points shy of his career high (24, versus Southeast Missouri State).
Murray added 17 points for Iowa (10-6, 2-3) and Filip Rebraca contributed 16 points and 12 rebounds.
The Hawkeyes became the first team to win and never trail at Rutgers (11-5, 3-2) over the last five seasons.
Sandfort entered the game in a shooting funk, connecting on just 44 of his 124 shots (.355 percent). He found his groove in the second half on Sunday, just as Rutgers was pulling to within single digits. His three-pointer with 8:34 to play halted a 6:30 Iowa scoring drought that provided his team with a 58-50 cushion. He followed that up by scoring Iowa’s next eight points to push the lead to 66-55 with 5:04 to go.
“We didn’t really have a lot going during that stretch,” he said of his scoring spurt. “Throughout my career I’ve always been the guy who wants to step up and make those shots. I never waivered and had faith in myself.”
Sandfort was candid about his shooting woes prior to Sunday.
“The support staff around the program really helped me out with it (scoring slump),” he said. “To get through that..Now I’m on the other side of it. It’s going to make me better in the long run.”
Iowa used a 5-0 burst to close the first half with a 42-30 lead. The Hawkeyes faced double-digit halftime deficits in their previous three games but were aided by an 8-0 run to start the game at Rutgers and led by as many as 13 points in the first half (30-17).
“The key is to get off to a good start,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
They are not an easy team to play against. They have size and you have to move the ball and take care of the ball.
“You have to handle the pressure and eventually you have to make shots We had that one stretch in the second half where they made that run at us. I thought we starting to milk clock a little bit. You’re up 12 with 10 minutes to go, you gotta go, especially here. We started attacking a little more.”
McCaffery was quick to recognize the value of Sandfort’s effort, especially in the second half.
“You get a guy who is cooking like that,” he said, “you have to go to him. It’s one thing for me to go to him, but everybody has to be together on that on the court. We have to load him up. We have to screen for him. We have to hit him in the shot pocket because they (Rutgers) were getting after him defensively. He was going to have intense pressure on him, so we screened for him and delivered the ball to him on time.”
Rebraca turned in his team-best sixth double-double of the season, despite matching up with one of the country’s top defensive big men, Cliff Omoruyi. Rebraca held him to nine points and was dominant on the offensive end.
“Cliff is a handful,” said McCaffery. “We doubled him and then we went at him. We made him. play defense. His Rebraca’s effort against him is one of the reasons we won the game.”