Iowa avoids upset against depleted Minnesota with 68-56 victory at Williams Arena
Kris Murray helps to quell Minnesota's upset bid with 28 points and 14 rebounds
By Pat Harty
The Iowa men’s basketball team avoided what would have been a horrible loss at Minnesota on Sunday, but it wasn’t as easy as most probably expected it to be.
The pesky Gophers, despite having just one conference win, and only eight available players on scholarship, overcome a poor start in which they trailed by 12 points early in the first half to make a game of it until Iowa finally pulled away at the end.
Iowa left Williams Arena with a 68-56 victory, but it was hardly a top-notch performance under the circumstances.
The Hawkeyes led by just three points at halftime (32-29) against a Minnesota squad that had lost its previous game by 35 points against Maryland at home.
Iowa finally started to create some separation late in the second half as Connor McCaffery made a wide-open 3-point basket to expand the lead to 61-51 with just over five minutes left to play.
Junior forward Kris Murray then made another three to give Iowa a 64-52 lead with about 4:30 left to play.
Minnesota never would threaten again as Iowa improved to 16-9 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten, while also improving to 2-5 in Big Ten road games.
Minnesota fell to 7-16 and 1-12 under second-year head coach Ben Johnson and has lost six of its last seven games against the Hawkeyes.
Murray led Iowa with a game-high 28 points, including 18 in the second half, and he also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds.
Senior forward Filip Rebraca finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Connor McCaffery, a sixth-year senior guard, and the son of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, had 10 rebounds. four assists. and three steals.
Iowa junior guard Tony Perkins also had six assists and three steals.
Fran McCaffery had praise for his opponent after Sunday’s game.
“I was really impressed with the job that Ben has done under difficult circumstances,” McCaffery said on the FS1 post-game show. “He’s got them playing hard.
“The only good thing when you’re coaching in that situation when you have guys out, it gives opportunities to your freshmen and those kids are playing really well and they’re gaining confidence and they’re playing aggressively, and that’s what they did.”
The game was physical from start to finish as the officials allowed plenty of contact on both ends, but there were also 31 fouls called.
“Some days you’ve just to play through contact,” Murray said on the Learfield post-game radio show. “It was one of those types of games where the whistle wasn’t blowing, and you just have to play through it.”
Iowa bolted to an 18-6 lead and appeared on the verge of burying the depleted Gophers in the first half when the momentum suddenly shifted.
Iowa only shot 34 percent in the first half and was outscored 23-14 to close the half after having led by 12 points.
Murray led Iowa with 10 points in the first half, but he only made 4-of-14 field-goal attempts in the half, with many of his misses coming on close shots near the basket.
Murray responded in the second half by making 8-of-13 field-goal attempts.
“We kept going to him” Fran McCaffery said. “Those shots he took, the 14 shots in the first half, they were all good shots. We were going to him, and uncharacteristically some were falling out. We had the lob and he missed it, and then a couple of plays that he missed.
“To his credit he just kept coming and we’re going to keep running stuff for him.”
Connor McCaffery helped to ignite a 7-0 run early in the second half with three steals of Iowa’s 13 steals.
The Hawkeyes had a 44-33 advantage on the boards, including a 17-2 edge in offensive rebounds.
Iowa also a 14-2 advantage on points off turnovers as the Gophers struggled against Iowa’s full-court press.
But Minnesota still kept the score close until the very end.
“We had to fight,” Fran McCaffery said. “You know it. You watched it. Anybody who beats this team is going to have to fight.”
Iowa now returns home to face Ohio State on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Buckeyes are struggling as the second to last place team in the conference standings. But they defeated Iowa 93-77 earier this season, a game in which Fran McCaffery said his team’s performance was unacceptable.
So smooth 🤌@KrisMurray24 x #Hawkeyespic.twitter.com/Y02d8j2kxI
— Iowa Men’s Basketball (@IowaHoops) February 12, 2023