116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
INDIANAPOLIS — The simple truth is the Iowa men's basketball team would have been missing something very important had freshman forward Keegan Murray not emerged like he did from the get-go this season.
Murray's value was clear for all to see on the stat line Saturday in Iowa's 86-74 first-round NCAA men's basketball tournament win over Grand Canyon at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The Cedar Rapids Prairie alum had 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a career-best four blocked shots in 25 minutes.
Starting guard Connor McCaffery battled foul trouble in both halves, so Murray was called on to play more minutes than normal, and did so with aplomb as he has done so many times in Iowa's 30 games, 22 of them wins.
When 6-foot-11 power forward Jack Nunge's season ended in late February because of a knee injury, the 6-8 Murray's role grew larger. He is the team's only current post presence of any kind after Luka Garza.
Murray made only 1 of 5 shots from 3-point range, and he pointed that out during a video conference with reporters Saturday night. But he certainly excelled in everything else, with fine passing, rebounding and shot-blocking. He blocked a shot of GCU 7-footer Asbjorn Midtgaard in the second half, and swatted a jumper of Antelope guard Jovan Blacksher from behind him.
'The shots weren't falling for me, but I just wanted to make every play I could,' Murray said. 'I think that's just being relentless. I was relentless on every possession, whether it was helping Luka out if he's one-on-one (on defense), or chasing down a block in transition.'
Murray has 10 blocks over his last four games, and 38 this season. He had a pair of three-block games against Wisconsin this month.
'I just think throughout the season it's just been a natural instinct for me,' he said, 'to read people, to read tendencies, and just what they're going to do.'
Murray was on the Big Ten's all-freshman team. It would have been an injustice were he not.
'I pretty much expect the same thing from Keegan every game,' Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said after Saturday's win. 'He gives you rim protection. He gives you an athlete that runs the floor. He can score, but he can also make a 3. He's not afraid to take a 3.
'I think he's doing a lot more off the dribble, making plays for himself and other people. But most importantly, he's just not a mistake guy. He doesn't panic.'
Murray's performance was part of one of the Hawkeye bench's best games as a collective. Point guard Joe Toussaint, forward Patrick McCaffery and guard Tony Perkins all were contributors, especially in the first half. Murray had nine first-half points. That's more than his season-average for entire games, 7.3.
Toussaint had five points by halftime, more than his season-average for entire games, 3.7. He was just 2-of-10 all season in 3-pointers and hadn't made one since Game 2, but confidently swished the only one he took Saturday.
Patrick McCaffery was aggressive and scored six points in a nice 16 minutes, and freshman spot-player Perkins had two points, two rebounds and two assists in six minutes.
'It really comes down to getting quality minutes and being able to establish depth to win a game like this against a really good team,' Fran McCaffery said.
It comes down to focus, too. These teams in the NCAA tournament aren't making mankind's greatest sacrifices by isolating in nice hotels during the event, but it's not the way people generally want to live. It might be easy to lose focus, to feel a little out of sorts.
The Hawkeyes got to downtown Indianapolis on March 14. They hadn't played a game in a week, and hadn't done much of anything except practicing, weightlifting, meeting and eating, and most of the time, staying in their rooms. They came out Saturday without a hint of rust, leaping to an 11-2 lead and staying in front the rest of the way.
McCaffery said he didn't think his guys would be stale 'because I thought we practiced really well.
'The guys are in the hotel, they could actually look forward to lifting and they look forward to going to practice, engaging with each other, and then going to meetings and watching film. I was impressed with their professionalism in that regard.'
'Having a week off,' said Iowa wing Joe Wieskamp, 'you could (imagine) us coming out a little slow. But we mentally locked in each and every day in practice and in our film sessions and things like that.
'We know the importance of these types of games, so we came out strong.'