WHAT HAPPENED: In a game filled with two-sided ugly, Indiana took control early and maintained a comfortable lead despite its second-worst shooting night of the season to beat Iowa 73-60 in front of 17,472 at Assembly Hall.
Both teams had an extremely difficult time finding the hoop early, but the Hoosiers opened the game with a 15-6 run (if a 10 minute, 26 second period can be considered a “run.”) Iowa closed the deficit to 20-14, but the Hoosiers went on a 6-0 run to lead 26-14 at the half and Iowa was never closer than eight points the rest of the way and never got within double digits in the last 16:14.
The win gives the Hoosiers (25-4 overall, 13-3 in the Big Ten) 25 wins in the regular season (before the conference tournament) for just the sixth time in school history and the first time since 2008. With the victory, the Hoosiers are one win away from a share of their first Big Ten title since 2002. Two more wins or a win paired with losses by Michigan State and Wisconsin would give the Hoosiers their first outright title since 1993.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: With nothing falling outside the paint, the Hoosiers made a point to get the ball in the paint and that meant a big night from sophomore center Cody Zeller. After a painful evening against Trevor Mbakwe on Tuesday night in Minneapolis, Zeller was the toughest man on the floor on Saturday night. After failing to finish several layups and dunks early in the game, he eventually got those to fall and finished 7-for-13 from the field, 8-for-13 from the free throw line with 22 points and 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. He had a strong night defensively as well, even though he was switching on to just about every player on Iowa’s considerably long lineup. He finished with three blocks and two steals along with his offensive numbers.
Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell also managed to find an offensive rhythm in the midst of so much messiness. He attacked the lane and got to the rim, finishing layps much better than he had in a 2-for-10 performance against Minnesota on Tuesday. He was 5-for-8 from the field and 8-for-10 at the free throw line for 19 points and five assists. He also hit a 3-pointer — one of just two the Hoosiers hit all night — and the only two-point jump shot outside the paint that the Hoosiers hit all night.
IU junior guard and Player of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble was still effective in limited minutes. He hit Indiana’s other 3-pointer (with 49 seconds left for the Hoosiers first of the game) and finished 4-for-6 from the field with 10 points and eight rebounds as well as four steals.
The Hoosiers won despite the fact that seniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford were a combined 0-for-15 from the field and 0-for-6 from beyond the arc. They combined for seven points. Strangely Hulls, one of the nation’s best shooters, is 0-for-17 against Iowa this year.
Junior guard Roy Devyn Marble led Iowa with 20 points. Sophomore forward Aaron White had 14 and senior guard Eric May scored 12.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Both teams were generally offensively messy. Iowa turned the ball over 19 times. Indiana only gave it away on 12 occasions, but a few of those were particularly ugly. They combined to miss 67 field goals while shooting 38.5 percent from the field. They were 3-for-27 from the 3-point arc, they missed a combined 20 free throws and committed 52 personal fouls.
But part of reason for all of those numbers was that both teams played tough, physical defense. IU was in man-to-man, but did a lot of switching against an Iowa lineup that has become much bigger with junior forward Melsahn Basabe back in the starting lineup and former small forward Roy Devyn Marble being forced to start at point guard with freshman Mike Gessell out. Iowa mixed man-to-man with 2-3 and 1-2-2 zones that packed the paint but still kept the Hoosiers from getting good outside looks.
At the end of the day, for as poorly as they shot the ball, they still kept the No. 3 offense in the Big Ten far below its average and defended well enough to keep a comfortable lead throughout. The Hoosiers also did a good job of recognizing in the second half that jumpers were not falling and getting it inside on the post-up to Zeller and with Ferrell on the dribble-drive. It wasn’t the sort of performance the Hoosiers would want to duplicate — nor was it the sort of performance anyone would want to re-watch — but there was a maturity to it that they could take some level of pride in.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Of Indiana’s last three games on the schedule, this wasn’t one that anybody circled as a must-win but it was the game the Hoosiers could have least afforded to lose. Iowa is 18-11 and probably an NIT team at this point (Tom Crean’s assertions that they belong in the NCAA notwithstanding) so it wouldn’t have been as problematic as losing to Penn State as Michigan did, but it still would’ve been IU’s worse loss to date. It would have been a significant blow to the Hoosiers No. 1 seed resume and it would have also put the Hoosiers back in a tie in the loss column for first place in the Big Ten. This victory gives the Hoosiers no style points, but they still won and won comfortably with a strong defensive performance and they head into the final week of the regular season very much in control of their destiny.
WHO SAID WHAT:
“A hard-fought victory, there’s no doubt about it. I know it sounds cliches, but it’s not. Everybody’s playing for the same thing, they’re playing to get better, they’re playing to win, they’re playing to improve. All year long, but certainly in preparing for the game, there’s no question in my mind, if you’re going to have the best league in the country like we have, and it’s been that way the entire year, then certain teams should get a little bit of an exclusion from the bubble, and I think Iowa’s one of them. I don’t have any doubt about that. Nobody wants to see them in the NCAA Tournament. I mean, they’re really good.”
“For us to defend them the way we did tonight and hold them to 14 points in the first half says a lot about our defense, a lot about our resolve. It’s been a long week. Anytime you have a Tuesday-type Saturday situation and then losing the way we did and coming back and having to grind and having to play against another really good team, it’s never easy. Getting to this point is not easy and getting to this year is not easy. These guys continue to improve, they have great resolve, and again, it’s not going to be beautiful, picture-perfect game. It’s too good of a league.
“Cody Zeller had a phenomenal night, a great week leading up to tonight. He continues to get better and better and continues to get a lot of attention on the court and earns everything that he gets. He earned every one of those free throws. He continues to play at a very high level. We had to work through fouls, we had to work through lack of confidence maybe once in a while from our offense not being where it needed to be in the first half. A sign of a mature team is that it never wavered on the defensive end, and that’s the story of the game for us.”
“The thing that kept us going was our defense. We kept getting stops on the defensive end. We struggled at times on our offense, but when you’re getting stops, you’re going to win.”
“We want to get it in the paint, whether it’s throwing it in the post or driving. That’s where we are most successful, and like you said, we had to do more of that tonight to win.”
“I was just pretty much trying to pick my spots in the last game. I definitely missed a lot of layups I could have finished. Tonight I felt I did a better job of taking one more dribble and being more under control.”