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National scoring leader Keegan Murray making name at Iowa

iowa basketball

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s Keegan Murray has gone from overlooked recruit out of high school to nation’s leading scorer and, maybe, the Hawkeyes’ second consecutive national player of the year.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore matched his career high with 35 points in Monday’s 80-75 win over Maryland, a performance that prompted Terrapins’ interim coach Danny Manning to call Murray a first-round NBA draft pick.

“He’s a lottery pick,” Manning said. “That’s what one looks like. We got a chance to see it up close and personal today.”

Murray is averaging 24.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game with steady performances indicative of his personality.

“Keegan is a pretty low-key guy,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday. “He just kind of stays even keel. He doesn’t get too up or too down. When you have a guy like that, you’re just happy for him, and enjoy the success he’s been having.”

Western Illinois of the Summit League was the only other Division I school to offer scholarships to Murray and his twin brother, Kris, when they played at Cedar Rapids Prairie High. The Murrays, the sons of former Iowa player Kenyon Murray, played the 2019-20 season at DME Sports Academy in Florida before joining the Hawkeyes.

Kris Murray has been a key reserve for the Hawkeyes, averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds after not playing much last season.

Keegan was on the Big Ten’s all-freshman team after averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds. He and the rest of his teammates were overshadowed by Luka Garza, the Associated Press national player of the year.

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” Murray said. “For me, it was about honing my skills, just getting better in everything I did.”

Now it’s Murray’s turn in the spotlight.

“I’m just focused on the team,” he said. “I’m trying to get better as a person and a player. I’ve been putting a lot of hard work in. I’ve been an underdog my whole life. That’s just my mentality going into this year. Having a target on my back is something that doesn’t bother me.”

McCaffery said Murray has a complete set of skills. He demonstrated them against Maryland with career highs of 14 field goals and five 3-pointers. Murray opened the game with two dunks and a putback, but he said it was his first 3-pointer four minutes into the game that got him going.

“I saw the first shot go in,” Murray said. “Obviously as a shooter, you think when that (first) shot goes, every shot should go in. I kept hitting shots, kept getting open, and they were falling.”

Murray leads the Hawkeyes with 122 field goals, shooting 59.2%. He is second on the team with 21 3-pointers, shooting 35.6% from behind the arc.

“He can score from anywhere - from 3, mid-range, lobs, layups, dunks,” teammate Joe Toussaint said. “You name it, he scores from anywhere. It’s really easy when you have someone like that.”

The Hawkeyes (11-3, 1-2 Big Ten) visit No. 23 Wisconsin on Thursday night for a game matching Murray and fellow super sophomore Johnny Davis, who scored 37 points in the Badgers’ 74-69 win over No. 3 Purdue on Monday. Davis, at 22.3 points per game, is No. 3 on the national scoring chart behind Murray and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn.

All three of Iowa’s losses have come with Murray either not playing or limited because of an ankle sprain suffered in the 75-74 win at Virginia on Nov. 29.

Murray was able to rest his ankle during a nine-day break for final exams. Since then he’s averaging 29.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ current four-game winning streak.

“The thing about him is he never forces anything,” McCaffery said. “He just kind of plays at his pace.”