After a week of rest, the Iowa Hawkeyes got back on track Saturday night as they throttled Utah State 94-75 in the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was a much needed bounce back after taking a drubbing in Ames their last time out over a week ago. On Saturday, after a back and forth first half, it was the Hawkeyes who did the drubbing.
Iowa came out firing, shooting the ball well all night, but struggled early to get into a rhythm ton the defensive side of the ball. Utah State carved up the Iowa defense with pick and roll action that gave way to a number of easy layups and kick outs for wide open looks from beyond the arc. The Aggies shot 53.3% from the field and 46.2% from three through the first half.
But for as well as Utah State shot the ball, Iowa was better. The Hawkeyes shot a very nice 69% from the field in the first half as Keegan Murray poured in 25 points at the halfway point.
The hot start was driven not by Iowa’s outside shooters, but a combination of defense and rebounding. After being pummeled on the boards during their three-game losing streak to Purdue, Illinois and Iowa State, the Hawkeyes put forth serious effort on the glass. They went into the half holding a 15-9 edge on the boards and a 51-43 lead. After getting knotted up at 43 with just over 2:30 to go, the Hawkeyes closed things out on an 8-0 thanks in part to limited Utah State to one shot trips on their final three possessions.
The eight point deficit was the closest the Aggies would get the rest of the way as Iowa came out firing in the second half, extending their lead to 14 before Utah State countered, cutting the lead back to 10. But for every punch the Aggies would throw, Iowa came right back with a hook and an uppercut.
With the lead at 11 and just over 12 minutes to go, Kris Murray buried a triple to extend the lead to 14. Utah State’s Max Shulga hit one of his own, but Murray came right back and hit another from deep. Iowa would extend the lead to 18 over the next two and a half minutes and it only got worse from there for the Aggies.
The Hawkeyes went the final ten minutes of the game in cruise control as they got big time contributions from a number of players up and down the roster. Keegan Murray led the way with his career-high 35 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block, followed by brother Kris and his 17 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and block of his own. Patrick McCaffery added 12 points and 6 boards while Jordan Bohannon was the fourth Hawkeye in double figures with 11.
Iowa finished the day shooting nearly 55% from the field and just under 31% from deep. Despite the shooting falling off in the second half, the Hawkeyes pulled away on improved defense and much better rebounding than we’ve seen from them in recent games.
They finished with a 35-23 edge on Utah State in total rebounding and allowed only two offensive rebounds all night. The Hawkeyes had just 9 turnovers on the night but turned the Aggies over 14 times leading to an impressive 18-3 advantage in points off of turnovers and an even more impressive 20-2 advantage in fast break points.
Going forward, it’s clear what the recipe for success is for this group. They lack a dominant post presence lack Iowa fans have grown accustomed to over the last several years, the Hawkeyes have to be able to manufacture opportunities with the press and runouts. This group can’t afford to take a lackadaisical approach to boxing out or attacking the ball. Rebounding has to be a team effort.
The same goes for defense. There are still lapses in the half court and that’s likely to continue. With the pick and roll game in particular, Iowa still struggles even with quicker, more agile bigs. But they can dictate pace and generate easy baskets with the press that are a necessity when the offense isn’t humming along. That isn’t terribly frequent with a group led by an athlete like Keegan Murray and a secondary group that has 3-4 guys capable of popping off for 15+ on any given night. But when there are dry spells, defensive pressure cures all ills.
All in all, it was an impressive victory for the Hawkeyes. Perhaps the most impressive victory of the season. It’s Iowa’s first quadrant one win of the season as Utah State comes in at 35th in the NCAA’s NET rankings. The win bumps Iowa up to 31st.
The Hawkeyes, who move to 8-3 on the year, look to build on the new momentum as they play host to Southeast Louisiana on Tuesday.