By Seth Hine
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — In the first-ever Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament meeting of Rutgers and Iowa, Iowa was able to come away with a 84-74 win. Iowa (24-9), after setting the tournament record for points scored at 112 on Thursday, was able to make solid use of its bench as well as star players Keegan Murray and Tony Perkins.
This is in stark contrast to Rutgers (18-13), which saw its reserves average just 5:36 of play with not a single bench point.
No. 5 Iowa advanced to a semifinal game for the second consecutive tournament. The Hawkeyes will meet ninth-seeded Indiana. The semifinal will be the second-lowest combined seeded matchup in the 24-year history of the tournament, and the lowest since No. 10 Illinois beat sixth-seeded Minnesota in 2008.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery commented on the depth of his team and how his players help to strengthen one another. “You know, I think we have a lot of players that are really confident in themselves,” McCaffery said, “so if I start going to my bench, those guys typically produce, and then when I go back to the guys that maybe weren’t playing as well, they typically produce again.”
The lead only changed hands once in the half with Rutgers leading for 10:07 and Iowa holding their own at 9:24. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, whose No. 4 seeding was the highest since joining the league in 2014-15, this trend would not continue into the second half. The closest the Scarlet Knights would come to the Hawkeyes would be a margin of eight points.
Perkins, an Indianapolis native, scored 16 points with three assists. He was ecstatic about the win and being able to perform so well in his home city.
“Knowing I’m playing in my home city and seeing everybody in the crowd that I know, grew up with, it really boosts my energy a lot,” Perkins said.
The Hawkeyes were held to a season-low 46 points in a 48-46 loss at Rutgers on January 19. Iowa made just 28% of its shots in that game. The Hawkeyes made 49% on Friday. Iowa’s seven 3-point baskets gave the Hawkeyes a total of 26 in its two tournament games, nine fewer than Ohio State’s record of 35 set in 2021.
Iowa native Keegan Murray dropped 26 points with eight rebounds and two assists in his 36 minutes. He scored 26 in the second-round victory over Northwestern. Murray and his brother Kris were considered by some to be questionable recruits when McCaffery picked them up. Now that they are sophomores with solid performances and statistics on their side those concerns have been laid to rest.
“It wasn’t a favor, it wasn’t a gift, it wasn’t, hey, we’ll take a shot at two 6-8 kids,” McCaffery said. “That’s not how I operate. I have a responsibility to this program and to the institution to recruit Big Ten caliber players. And we don’t always get it right, you know that, but I was 100% convinced that those two kids were going to be really good, and so was my staff who watched them.”