By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
Kris Murray knows the secret of getting through playing an entire 40 minutes.
“Just live in the training room,” the Iowa forward said last week, smiling. “Definitely going to do that.”
It’s been a season of tests for Iowa’s depth, and coach Fran McCaffery’s message to the entire roster is the same.
It’s a sign of the faith he has in any player, whether on scholarship or a walk-on.
“I think we have a really good group of guys,” McCaffery said. “They all, I think, have the character necessary to step up when they know we need them. It has kind of been a continual, ongoing process where you know, OK, who’s out this game, who was out that game? And I’m not afraid to call their number and sometimes they have to play more minutes than others.”
The Hawkeyes are without forward Patrick McCaffery, who is taking an indefinite leave from competition for personal reasons, and center Josh Ogundele, out with a knee injury.
It’s nothing new for Iowa, which has battled injury issues all season. Only three players — Filip Rebraca, Dasonte Bowen and Payton Sandfort — have played in all 16 games this season.
Of the Hawkeyes’ regular rotation, Murray missed four games with a foot injury. Connor McCaffery missed a game with a wrist injury. Tony Perkins and Ahron Ulis each missed a game because of injury.
It requires some players to go deep into games. Murray, for example, played 40 minutes in the January 1 loss to Penn State, then came back four days later and played 40 minutes in the 91-89 win over Indiana.
“It’s tough playing 40 minutes like that, but I knew my team needed me to do it,” he said after the game. “I just needed to dig down and find another gear to finish.”
Rebraca, who has logged 506 minutes this season, played 40 in Sunday’s 76-65 win at Rutgers. He has had five other games this season in which he has played 35 or more minutes.
Perkins played 43 minutes, while Connor McCaffery played 41, in the 78-75 overtime loss to Wisconsin on December 11.
Yet Fran McCaffery isn’t afraid to use some of his younger players in key situations. He played the same starting five for the first 11 minutes of the second half in Thursday’s win before making three substitutions. Those players who came in — Ulis and true freshmen Bowen and Josh Dix — all made key plays in a critical stretch around the under-8 media timeout.
“What can you say about Payton Sandfort? He was phenomenal,” McCaffery said. “Josh Dix was phenomenal. And Dasonte was really good in the first half. Ulis was solid as always.
“I thought when they’re in there, at crunch time, your young guys, they have to execute.”
McCaffery also isn’t afraid to use players who haven’t had much playing time. Center Riley Mulvey, who has played in just six games this season, got first-half minutes in Thursday’s game. Walk-on guard Carter Kingsbury played three minutes in Sunday’s game.
McCaffery has talked often about the versatility of his roster, how so many players can play more than one position.
It’s been especially important throughout this season.
“Sometimes they play a different role, and I think we do kind of prepare for that in practice,” McCaffery said. “A guy like Josh Dix is going to play more than one spot. Payton Sandfort, same thing. Guys like that.
“So I felt like we had some versatile pieces coming into the season. But, as you well know, it’s a long season. It’s a physical grind. And we had a really tough schedule this year. But the guys have embraced it well. And I’m really proud of the way they’ve handled it.”
Photo: Iowa’s Filip Rebraca played all 40 minutes in Sunday’s win at Rutgers. (Rich Graessele/Icon SportsWire)