116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Fran McCaffery finally found a lineup Tuesday night that stopped getting dissected on defense and played winning basketball.
Of course, it included Keegan Murray.
Murray, Filip Rebraca, and reserves Connor McCaffery, Tony Perkins and Ahron Ulis played over 12 straight minutes together in the second half of Iowa’s 86-69 win over North Carolina Central Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Murray had 27 points and 21 rebounds, both career-highs, and blocked four shots. He became the first Hawkeye to get 20 boards in a game since Greg Brunner had 23 in 50 minutes against Minnesota in 2006 in a triple-overtime game.
Sophomore forward Murray is averaging 25.3 points. It’s more than a wee bit early to say this in a meaningful way, but that’s more per game than National Player of the Year Luka Garza scored for the Hawkeyes last year.
Perkins and Ulis, also sophomores, set career-highs with 13 and 12 points, respectively, and were cogs in a defensive effort that wasn’t there for the Hawkeyes in the first half when NCCU used dribble penetration for 30 points in the paint and 58.1 percent shooting.
“They’re two small, athletic guards,” Murray said. “They got up and down the floor and they make good decisions on the defensive and offensive end. Once they get more run on the court, their confidence is just going to grow. I think you saw that tonight.”
Perkins and Ulis combined to go 3-of-3 from 3-point range. Their teammates were a combined 2-of-20, including Jordan Bohannon’s 1-of-10. Bohannon made his first 3 of the night to tie Jon Diebler’s Big Ten career record 374 3s.
Murray played 37 minutes, 14 more than his previous career-high. You wouldn’t have expected that given Iowa (3-0) was a heavy favorite against NCCU (0-3). But this game was tied at 57 with 12 minutes left.
Then, the aforementioned quintet went to work. Perkins had three steals in the game. Ulis drew four fouls. They, with the other three players, were getting it done and coach Fran McCaffery saw no need to sub anyone out until the game’s last minute.
“Every game is different,” McCaffery said. “Their team, nine transfers, all seniors, juniors, old guys. Very athletic, deep, physical. Very fast. … They run a million plays very well.”
But Murray kept tracking down rebounds, kept getting loose in transition. And there he was with his third-straight game of at least 24 points.
“The thing about it is he doesn’t really hunt shots,” McCaffery said. “I think he took one bad shot today. Your leading scorer has the green light to take more than one bad shot, basically. He took one.
“He kind of gets a little bit here and there, and all of a sudden you look down and he’s got 27. It’s not like we run a ton of stuff for him.”
Murray also blocked four shots, giving him 10 in three games. He did miss a free throw, though, with 3:58 left. He had been 9-of-9 in the game and 20-of-20 this season.
Iowa, by the way, sank 35 of 41 foul shots. That more than offset the Eagles’ 28-23 advantage in field goals.
Iowa’s next game is here Thursday at 6:05 p.m. against Alabama State (0-3), which lost 68-60 at Iowa State Tuesday.
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