By John Bohnenkamp
Fran McCaffery talked before the season started about how deep his Iowa team was this season, and how he could use anyone in a given situation.
He’s done that, and the bench has provided some key moments for the Hawkeyes. That was evident in last Thursday’s 83-74 home win over Indiana.
The Hawkeyes, saddled with first-half foul trouble, used 12 players in the first half, 10 in the second half.
Kris Murray didn’t start, but played 29 minutes and scored 29 points. Connor McCaffery played 20 minutes and contributed five points and three steals. Tony Perkins played 11 minutes and scored eight points, including his personal 6-0 run midway through the second half that gave Iowa a 61-57 lead. Ahron Ulis had four points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.
“Connor was great in the second half,” Fran McCaffery said. “Ulis was spectacular, made a couple mistakes but he was great in one stretch. Tony, I mean, he turned the whole game around.”
“We just have that mindset that we’re not going to have that drop-off from the first group to the second group,” Murray said.
The Hawkeyes are 26th nationally with 40.2% of their minutes belonging to the bench, according to KenPom.com. The bench contributes 34% of Iowa’s scoring and 44% of the rebounding.
Murray averages 17.4 minutes. Perkins averages 16.9. Ulis averages 16.7, and Connor McCaffery averages 16.3.
Some of Iowa’s bench usage has come from necessity, as was apparent in the first half against the Hoosiers.
Forwards Keegan Murray and Filip Rebraca picked up two early fouls. That forced Fran McCaffery to go to centers Josh Ogundele and Riley Mulvey. Ogundele played five minutes, while Mulvey played just one.
In Sunday’s 81-71 win at Minnesota, Connor McCaffery was out with a back injury that has been bothering him for much of the season. That gave more minutes to Payton Sandfort, who had two points and two assists in eight minutes.
“I was really pleased with Payton Sandfort’s effort,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s playing with confidence.”
McCaffery has that same confidence with his roster.
He went through the checklist of all of the contributions on Thursday night.
“Those guys come in the game and impact the game. Connor’s going to impact a game with his toughness and his knowledge, Tony with his speed and aggressiveness. Ulis is steady, but he was getting downhill and really attacking their defense.
“That’s the kind of team we have. And I’m going to play ‘em all.”
REBRACA FITTING IN
Filip Rebraca came to Iowa from North Dakota, and although he’s been a mainstay in the Hawkeyes’ starting lineup, it’s taken him a little while to grow into his role.
Rebraca is coming off a 12-point, 12-rebound game against Minnesota, his first double-double of the season.
“Rebraca was great,” McCaffery said. “There’s no reason why he shouldn’t play like that every night. He’s gaining confidence every day.”
Rebraca is a veteran player who has taken time to adjust.
“He’s trying so hard to be a part of a winning team, he doesn’t think of himself enough,” McCaffery said. “And it’s OK. Go get buckets, go get rebounds. I thought defensively he was great. He was locked in.
“I think it’s hard convincing him that it’s OK to be selfish.”
McCaffery pointed out how Minnesota’s Jamison Battle was taking big shots late in the game.
“Filip has the ability to do that,” McCaffery said. “He’s so conscientious. In this game, sometimes it doesn’t require that. You’ve just got to hoop.”
DRAKE-UNI, ROUND ONE
Drake and Northern Iowa face off for the first time this season on Saturday in Cedar Falls, both in contention for the Missouri Valley Conference lead.
It’s the first of the two scheduled meetings in the round-robin Valley schedule, but lately the two teams have found the way to a third matchup at the conference tournament in St. Louis.
The Panthers and Bulldogs played each other in the tournament in 2019 and 2020. They were supposed to play in last season’s quarterfinals, but the game was canceled because of COVID-19 issues with the Panthers.
“Our games with Drake have been great games,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. “We’ve “We’ve happened to meet an extra time in St. Louis in most of the years that (Drake coach) Darian (DeVries) has been here and so yeah, I love the fact that those games, they always mean something.”
Northern Iowa (9-7 overall, 5-1 Valley) is tied for the conference lead with Loyola. Drake (12-5, 3-1) is one game back.
The Bulldogs play at Southern Illinois on Monday and at home against Bradley on Wednesday. UNI plays at Valparaiso on Wednesday.
DeVries knows the intensity of the rivalry, and he said his team knows what to expect playing at UNI.
“I think our guys would be excited,” DeVries said, laughing. “We played in so many empty gyms (last season), they want to be heckled a little bit and have some fun with it. And that’s what makes college sports so special is, you know, the students and the rivalries. That would be no different in this case.”
ROAD SWEEP FOR THE LEATHERNECKS
Western Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak with a weekend sweep in North Dakota.
The Leathernecks defeated North Dakota, 73-68, on Thursday, then won at North Dakota State in overtime, 90-79, on Saturday.
The win over the Bison came after the Leathernecks opened the overtime with a 13-0 run. Trenton Massner, who played all 45 minutes, had 31 points and 11 rebounds. Luka Barisic had 28 points.
Barisic, who had been struggling with his 3-point shot, was 3-of-6 from behind the arc.
“We were never playing from a deficit and I thought that helped our psyche… our guys remained poised which was good to see,” Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter said. “Luka’s play was the difference in this game. Trenton had a heck of a game getting downhill, but we needed a little something extra and that was Luka hitting shots from behind the arc.”
Photo: Iowa’s Kris Murray drives to the basket in last Thursday’s game against Indiana. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)