Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa opens Gonzaga Week with a 106-53 Sunday picnic vs. Northern Illinois

A Keegan Murray flurry in first half typified focused Hawkeye effort against Huskies

IOWA CITY — Fran McCaffery got his 200th win as Iowa’s men’s basketball coach Sunday. He’ll remember his 201st far longer if it comes this Saturday.

“Now it gets a lot tougher,” McCaffery said Sunday afternoon after the No. 3 Hawkeyes thumped Northern Illinois 106-53 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The 21 remaining games include 20 in Big Ten Conference play. Before those is Saturday’s 11 a.m. date in Sioux Falls, S.D., against No. 1 Gonzaga.

The Sanford Pentagon, the Sioux Falls arena hosting the game, posted this on its Twitter account immediately after Iowa’s Sunday picnic:

 

Game of the year?

Game of the year!!!!

It is so far. The 6-0 Hawkeyes look ready for the challenge. They have averaged 100.5 points, won by an average of 32 points per game, made 51 percent of their field-goal tries, and sank 11.7 3-pointers per contest.

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Here Sunday, Iowa trailed the Huskies (0-5) by 2-0, 6-3, 8-6 and 10-8. Then the Hawkeyes went on a 15-0 run. No lulls or lapses followed. Now a team that likes to play the one-game-at-a-time card has its next game against No. 1. The Zags.

“I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I heard we were playing them,” admitted Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp, who had a season-high 20 points Sunday.

“All I can say is I’m really excited for it. I know our whole team is.”

No one could have accused the Hawkeyes of looking ahead Sunday, nor could they have identified any mental or physical hangover following home wins over North Carolina and Iowa State last week.

The team’s effort was typified by freshman forward Keegan Murray of Cedar Rapids. He had 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes, but that doesn’t tell his story. This chronology does:

Murray entered with 10:28 left in the first half. He made a 3-pointer off his first touch of the ball. He had a behind-the-back baseline dribble-drive for a layup. He blocked a shot. He rebounded a Joe Toussaint air ball and sank a 3 seven seconds later.

He made another 3-pointer. He set up Patrick McCaffery for a 3. He rebounded a missed free throw by Wieskamp.

He blocked another shot and grabbed the rebound. Then he made a long pass that was stolen. Bummer. Except Murray stole the ball back seven seconds later and fed the cutting Wieskamp for a score.

Iowa’s lead grew from 23-10 to 41-17 in that seven-minute Murray flurry.

“He’s just going to keep getting better,” McCaffery said. “He’s done it every game so far this year, he’s done it every day in practice. He did it last year in prep school, he did it in high school (at Cedar Rapids Prairie).

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“He’s a prime example of recruiting is not an exact science. Some guys get on lists and some guys produce. That kid produces every time we put him on the floor, I don’t care who he plays against.”

Oh, Iowa’s Luka Garza played Sunday, too. He had a game-high 23 points in 20 minutes and was done with 15:07 left. He’ll be needed for more than 20 minutes Saturday.

Because the opponent is Gonzaga. Game of the year, so far.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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