Sports

Iowa Wins Big Ten Title, Hoping Its Season Is a Harbinger of Larger Success

INDIANAPOLIS — The Iowa fans at Gainbridge Fieldhouse here on Sunday might have assumed the ball would go through the net as soon as the Hawkeyes star sophomore Keegan Murray released it from beyond the 3-point arc.

Murray, Division I’s fourth-leading scorer entering tonight’s game, had sunk Indiana just a day earlier with eight 3-pointers and was the Big Ten’s leading scorer during the regular season.

So when he caught a pass from a teammate on Sunday night and launched the ball toward the basket in one motion, the Hawkeyes fans, who were outnumbered by the Purdue fans who were only about an hour’s drive from their university’s campus, were on their feet celebrating before the ball had even fallen through the net.

With the shot, Murray set the single-season Big Ten tournament record for points scored at 93.

The environment inside the arena, where fifth-seeded Iowa defeated third-seeded Purdue, 75-66, for the Big Ten Conference tournament title, was a typical atmosphere for March: Leads swayed back and forth like flimsy tree branches; players fought for rebounds and loose balls and ferociously clapped or screamed to hype themselves up; fans groaned and heckled officials after each whistle against their team.

But no matter the game’s outcome, one thing was clear: Both Iowa and Purdue, two of the Big Ten’s four nationally ranked programs, would hear their names called on Sunday evening when the N.C.A.A. tournament’s 68-team field was announced.

Iowa, which won its first Big Ten tournament championship since 2006, earned the No. 5 seed in the Midwest region, and Purdue earned the No. 3 seed in the East region.

In its previous game, Iowa erased a late 9-point deficit against Indiana to advance to the title game after Jordan Bohannon nailed a shot from well beyond the 3-point line with the game tied and one second left.

Hours later, Purdue, which swept Iowa in the regular season, defeated Michigan State for its 27th win of the season.

Sunday’s closely contested game between two of the nation’s most efficient offenses wrapped up a Big Ten tournament that provided the perfect preview for the national event, with its upsets and double-digit comebacks adding a balanced mix of drama, excitement and agony.

Such has been the season for the star-studded Big Ten, which features a handful of National Player of the Year candidates: Murray, Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Ohio State’s EJ Liddell. Like Murray, another star in the league, Purdue’s Jaden Ivey is widely projected as a lottery pick in the upcoming N.B.A. draft.

Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, like Iowa’s Murray, is a projected lottery pick in the 2022 N.B.A. draft. Ivey scored 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting on Sunday.Credit…Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Murray, who is averaging more than 23 points per game this season, has been Iowa’s workhorse as a 6-foot-8 forward who can score from multiple areas on the court, post up against smaller players and pull down rebounds.

He turned in a 19-point, 11-rebound performance on Sunday after scoring 32 points against Indiana.

After the game, Murray, who had cautioned his team not to celebrate Saturday’s game-winning 3-pointer before the final seconds elapsed, turned toward the crowd and allowed a small grin to creep onto his face as he pumped his fist.

Minutes later, Murray, who played all but 10 seconds in Iowa’s fourth game in four days, was given the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award.

“For me, I’m not going to get tired,” he said. “It’s a championship game. I’m not tired at all. I can go home and rest tomorrow. I feel like all of our guys had the championship mind-set tonight that soreness was out the window for us.”

Behind Ivey’s 20 points and a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds from forward Trevion Williams, Purdue kept the game close.

Iowa had a chance to take a comfortable lead in the first half after a flurry of Purdue turnovers — a season-long issue for the team — but, shooting just 3-of-15 from 3-point range, the Hawkeyes held a narrow 35-32 lead at halftime.

Late in the game, Ivey rifled an errant pass, one of the Boilermakers’ 17 turnovers, and Iowa pulled away.

Purdue Coach Matt Painter credited Iowa’s defense as a major factor in the outcome.

“I always say this about rebounding and turnovers: If you think you’ve got it figured out, it will rear its ugly head,” Painter said. He added: “You should win a game when you outrebound somebody by 18.”

Now, the Big Ten, which will send nine teams to the N.C.A.A. tournament, turns its attention to the biggest stage of the postseason, where it sputtered last year. The conference sent nine teams to the tournament last season, and eight were eliminated by the end of the first weekend.

But the Big Ten, after an entertaining season, is again well positioned for success.

“I think it just is an example of what this conference is and what it’s been: the most difficult conference top to bottom,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “Not only is every team really good, really hard to beat, but every team is dramatically different. That’s what makes it exciting for the players, exciting for the people who are watching. And that’s why we’ve got so many teams in.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button