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A 6-point play? Sort of, for Payton Sandfort as Iowa storms past Northwestern
Sandfort had a 3-pointer and 3 free throws with 3:36 left as he matched teammate Filip Rebraca’s 20 points in 86-70 win
IOWA CITY — It’s been a very good half-week for the Iowa men’s basketball team.
The Hawkeyes began the week 4-5 in the Big Ten. They played two games in three days against teams in second place in the conference at the time they arrived at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Now Iowa is 6-5, a game behind second-place Illinois. Which, wouldn’t you know it, plays here Saturday afternoon in the next contest for both.
Those are two good defensive teams, Rutgers and Northwestern. After hanging a 93-82 defeat on Rutgers, the Hawkeyes doubled down Tuesday night with an 86-70 victory over Northwestern. It was a four-point game with 6:46 left, but then Iowa’s Filip Rebraca and Payton Sandfort took over.
Sandfort had 20 points and five assists. Rebraca had 20 points and four assists. Neither are point guards, but both can pass. They fed each other.
“I think we just know each other’s games and we just played off each other and into our strengths,” Rebraca said.
Rebraca scored eight straight Iowa points as it took a 65-61 lead and made it 73-63. He had a fierce dunk off a Sandfort pass. Soon after, he got a lay-in off a cut as Sandfort found him.
Then it was Sandfort’s time. He scored six points at the 3:36 mark of the second half, and that’s not a typographical error.
Rebraca passed to Sandfort, who hit a 3-pointer and was fouled by Matthew Nicholson. Steamed Northwestern Coach Chris Collins was assessed a technical foul for, well, letting off too much steam. Sandfort made both free throws from the technical, then sank the foul shot to finish his four-point play.
The sophomore forward matched a career-high with five 3-pointers, in just seven tries. He was sprawled on the court after the one he got fouled on, but still gave a 3-point signal with his fingers.
“I should have thrown four,” Sandfort said. “Maybe six.”
It was two players not named Kris Murray who took command of the game down the stretch, but it was five Hawkeyes who scored in double-figures. Murray had 16 points to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. Tony Perkins and Connor McCaffery got 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Rebraca had 10 rebounds, twice as many as any Wildcat. His 20 points were a personal high in a Big Ten game. He is averaging 14 points, up from last season’s 5.8. That was his first year at Iowa after three productive ones at North Dakota.
It’s a different Rebraca this season, a fifth-year center showing a little more game all the time.
“In the second half,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, “he was pretty much flawless.”
⧉ Related article: He’s 5,000 miles from “home,” but Filip Rebraca has a comfort zone in Iowa
“He took last year pretty hard,” Sandfort said. “He wanted to prove himself and put a little too much pressure on himself. This year he’s been free.
“He’s really been showing us Serbian toughness. He talks about it all the time. We didn’t believe him at first. Maybe now we’ll give that to him.
“He’s an animal.”
Sandfort’s shooting slump from Nov. 16 through Jan. 5 keeps getting harder to remember. He was 9-of-54 from 3-point distance over those 13 games. In the seven games since, he’s 19-of-37 from deep. He has hit the 20-point mark three times in that stretch, all wins.
This triumph was a sweat, for sure. The game was tied at halftime. Northwestern led 35-26 with 3:30 left in the first half. Sandfort made a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the half for a tie at 39.
Wildcat guard Boo Buie scored the first five points of the second half, but Iowa was ahead by the first TV timeout of the half. The game had nine lead changes and seven ties. The last seven minutes, though, were when Iowa made the final score look tilted.
Enter Illinois Saturday.
“We’re not satisfied,” Rebraca said. “We want this next one. This win just makes the next game even bigger.”
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