The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Payton Sandfort’s historic triple-double a product of the past and sign of the future

The Iowa forward’s extraordinary numbers against Penn State occurred in unusual fashion, but also defined Sandfort as far beyond the sharpshooter label.
Jerod Ringwald
Iowa guard Payton Sandfort high fives teammates while coming off the floor during a basketball game between Iowa and Omaha at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Sandfort recorded eight points. The Hawkeyes defeated the Mavericks, 100-64.

With Iowa men’s basketball leading Penn State by 10 points with 21 seconds remaining, it was fairly obvious to the Black and Gold faithful that their Hawkeyes would emerge victorious. Yet after Nittany Lion guard Ace Baldwin Jr.’s initial one-and-one attempt rolled off the rim and into the grasping hands of Payton Sandfort, Carver-Hawkeye Arena reacted as if the junior forward had just splashed a buzzer-beater. 

But on Tuesday night Sandfort’s usual electric shooting display was watered down to a 3-of-11 mark from overall, including a 2-of-7 clip from downtown. Instead, the third-year from Waukee, Iowa, had just produced a feat that hasn’t been done in Iowa men’s basketball’s 127 years of existence – a triple-double. 

“Well I mean, I’ve seen Caitlin [Clark] do it every day, so that kind of diminishes the legitimacy of it,” Sandfort joked during postgame media availability. “But being from the state, I think it’s a pretty special thing.” 

For Sandfort, whose final stat line read 26 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds, three blocks, and one steal, the feat wasn’t just extraordinary, but also a product of his dedication to his all-around game. This balance in skills not only helped him etch history in Iowa City but also added to his resume as a potential pro player. 

Heading into the contest against Penn State, Sandfort was shooting 45.3 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc, but it was his 90.4 percent rate from the free-throw line that would guide his scoring. 

Taking 19 trips to the charity stripe, Sandfort connected on 18 attempts – producing 69.2 percent of his point total. His previous career high in free throw attempts was seven. 

“A good shooter is going to make 18-of-19 … He’s a real threat wherever he’s at on the court and he puts pressure on you no matter what,” Penn State head coach Mike Rhoades said of Sandfort. 

In the first half of the ballgame, much of this pressure derived from Sandfort’s passing prowess, as he entered the break leading the team with eight of its 15 assists. In fact, in the game’s first five minutes of action, Sandfort’s passes resulted in eight of Iowa’s 14 points. 

Twelve of those points came from Iowa second-year guard Josh Dix, who missed only one shot as he entered halftime with 18 points. For Sandfort, the effort was simply feeding the hot hand. 

“I made a couple of cool passes, but I was just giving him the ball,” Sandfort said with a laugh. 

When Patrick McCaffery walked into the tunnel at halftime, one of the Iowa team managers approached him with the news: Sandfort was officially on “trip-doub watch.” 

“‘He’s got eight assists? I had no idea,’” McCaffery recalled saying. 

As the clock ticked away in the second half and Sandfort notched five more points and two more dimes to reach double-figures in those categories, just the rebounds remained. For Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, this was rather ironic, for he considers Sandfort one of the best rebounders on the squad, 

The coach explained how Sandfort knew he would play more at the power forward position this season, which sparked a “more concerted effort” to work on boxing out and guarding taller defenders.

Sandfort had so much confidence in his work on the glass that he told one of the Hawkeye coaches before the game that he would reach 10 boards – a goal he’s accomplished three times this season. But when the match wound down to its final moments, that coach was just as excited as his player. 

“He was, like, ‘Hey, get one more rebound.’” Sandfort remembered.  “[I said], ‘I got you.’ He’s like, ‘No, get one more rebound.’”

So after Sandfort positioned himself squarely in front of Penn State’s Puff Johnson, soared upward for the missed shot, corralled the basketball, and passed to Patrick McCaffery, the forward reacted accordingly. Strolling towards the bench as Iowa called timeout, Sandfort extended both arms upwards, a wide grin spreading across his face. 

“He knew he had nine [rebounds], that’s the only way he would’ve reacted like that,” Patrick McCaffery said. 

McCaffery also took the time to defend his teammate, arguing that anyone who thinks Sandfort is simply a shooter hasn’t watched the Hawkeyes very closely this season. 

“He does a lot off the bounce, off the move, can really rebound well for his position,” he said of Sandfort. 

The offseason of rebounding was also one of defensive improvement for Sandfort, whose three blocks on Tuesday were the results of countless hours of jumping rope and going one-on-one against Iowa guard Tony Perkins.

“I had talks [that offseason] about how if I wanted to continue my career, it had to be on that end of the floor,” Sandfort said of his defense. “It’s definitely working on my pride, just showcasing that and shutting up the haters.” 

While Sandfort does have two more seasons of eligibility, the 6-foot-7, 215-pounder has garnered some attention from the NBA. In the Feb. 23 version of Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman’s 2024 mock draft, the Boston Celtics grab Sandfort at No. 42 overall. 

For a school that’s produced multiple professional talents such as B.J. Armstrong, Luka Garza, and Khris and Keegan Murray, Sandfort is the only Hawkeye to have recorded to a triple-double in the Black and Gold. For Fran McCaffery, Sandfort’s historic performance is only further validation that the kid from Waukee isn’t far behind. 

“He definitely does [have a chance for the NBA],” the head coach said of Sandfort. “I think the important thing is he’s not just a shooter. If you want to make the pros you have to be a player. And he certainly wants to.” 

But before Sandfort can ponder his NBA dreams or collegiate records, the 21-year-old college student has more immediate priorities. It was a school night, after all. 

“I’ve got homework,” he said with a smile as he exited the podium. 

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Jerod Ringwald, Creative Director
Jerod Ringwald is the Creative Director at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. He was previously a managing editor this past summer as well as a former photo editor. During his sophomore year, he worked as a photojournalist covering news and sports.