Iowa strives to defeat Iowa State for the fourth consecutive time when the in-state rivals square off on Thursday night in Ames.
The contest on No. 17 Iowa State’s home court comes after the Hawkeyes (7-2) dropped back-to-back Big Ten games to then-No. 2 Purdue and Illinois.
Iowa State (8-0) is seeking to match the third-best start in school history (9-0 in 2015-16). The early-season success represents quite a turnaround under first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger after the Cyclones went 2-22 last season.
“I’ve done this — not forever — but long enough,” Otzelberger said. “I don’t know that I’ve seen a group that has more pride in Iowa State and in their team success and cares about each other and is giving what they have every single day.”
The Cyclones snapped a 25-game road losing streak on Saturday when they posted a 64-58 win at Creighton.
Caleb Grill made all four of his 3-point attempts and scored a season-best 16 points off the bench to energize Iowa State, which scored just nine points over the first 15-plus minutes.
Grill’s contributions were big with leading scorer Izaiah Brockington connecting on just 3 of 13 shots and scoring 12 points. Brockington averages 16 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
“I trust Izaiah, as much as a coach could trust the player,” Otzelberger said. “What he does every day, how he competes, which is unbelievable how he brings it.”
Iowa has a bigger star in Keegan Murray, who entered the week as the nation’s leading scorer. After Monday’s game, he is averaging 23.9 points and eight rebounds.
Murray opened the season with six straight games of at least 23 points. He scored 18 points in a 75-74 road win over Virginia on Nov. 29 but missed the Hawkeyes’ 77-70 loss to Purdue last Friday due to an ankle injury.
Murray returned to score 17 of his 19 points in the second half on Monday night as Iowa fell 87-83 to Illinois.
“Yeah, he wasn’t himself early,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Murray, who finished 4 of 7 from the free-throw line. “Maybe that’s understandable. He was coming off an injury, coming off a game he didn’t play. He missed a couple of free throws, which he normally doesn’t do.
“We encouraged him to continue to be aggressive, and he really got it going in the second half. At one point, you never thought he was going to get 19 points, but that just tells you how good he is.”
Murray, who had a 21-rebound game earlier this season, collected a season-low two boards against Illinois. He was far from the lone culprit as the Hawkeyes were outrebounded by a stunning 52-23.
“This rebounding line is completely unacceptable,” McCaffery said. “I’ve been coaching for 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. This is absolutely unacceptable. We just have to be better.”
Iowa also is hoping to get sixth-year sharpshooter Jordan Bohannon untracked. He holds the Big Ten record of 385 career 3-pointers but has scored five points or fewer in four of the past five games. He is averaging 9.8 points.
The Hawkeyes lead the series 47-27.
–Field Level Media