It’s really hard to win at Assembly Hall. No. 4 Iowa became the latest top 25 team to learn that on Thursday, losing 85–78 to the Hoosiers despite rallying from a 16-point deficit.
Over the last five seasons, Indiana has now defeated six top 5 teams that have made the trip to Bloomington and is 16–2 at home against top 25 teams in that span, according to ESPN. The Hawkeyes are the most recent giant to fall, setting up quite the confluence at the top of the Big Ten.
Here are three thoughts on Indiana’s best win of the season:
Indiana’s offense won out over Iowa’s defense
There’s been a lot of talk about the Hoosiers’ defense this season (especially after a dreadful showing against Duke in December) and whether Indiana can win with it. And while its defense has improved since then, a matchup against a team with the nation’s eighth-most efficient offense and 10th-most efficient defense looked dubious. But as good as the Hawkeye defense has been this season, Indiana simply had too much offensive firepower. No Hoosier scored more than 14 points, but perhaps that’s exactly why it proved so difficult to stop.
As Indiana built a 16-point lead in the first half, it got to the rim at will, causing rare lapses in Iowa’s sturdy defense. Just look at how easily sophomore guard Robert Johnson got into the lane on this early play, which saw Adam Woodbury and Dom Uhl fail to step in and help after Peter Jok got beat off the dribble:
Indiana looked like the more aggressive team for much of the game, especially in the first half, and it showed in the stats. In the first half the Hoosiers missed 17 shots but corralled 12 offensive rebounds, picking up 17 second-chance points and holding Iowa to only eight. The Hawkeyes had better control of the boards in the second half, but key plays by Yogi Ferrell (who had a poor shooting night) and Troy Williams down the stretch helped IU pull away.
Iowa got no production out of its bench
When the Hawkeyes lost at Maryland, Jarrod Uthoff had a rough 2-for-13 shooting night going against the Terrapins’ length. On Thursday against the Hoosiers, Uthoff often shined, scoring 24 points on 8-of-19 shooting. In fact all five of Iowa’s starters scored at least 12 points, but it wasn’t enough. Its four-player bench produced zero points, three rebounds, one steal, two turnovers and six fouls.
When Iowa went on a run to take the lead early in the second half, Indiana looked tired and disoriented on offense and defense, and it looked like the Hawkeyes were poised to take control of the game. But the Hoosiers were able to weather the storm and overcome the foul trouble of freshman center Thomas Bryant, who picked up his fourth foul with over nine minutes left, partly thanks to the fact that their bench combined for 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Forward Max Bielfeldt was a key contributor with 10 points and four rebounds, while guard Nick Zeisloft hit three first-half threes that helped build Indiana’s initial big lead.
The other big contrast in the game was free-throw shooting. Iowa took 23 free throws and missed 10 of them, and in a seven-point loss those 10 points left on the board are critical. Indiana, meanwhile, made 18 of its 21 attempts from the charity stripe. Iowa entered Thursday ranked fifth in the Big Ten with a 72.8 free-throw percentage, but on the road the Hawkeyes are shooting just 56.5% from the line. That’s a concern going forward.
This was exactly the win Indiana needed
The Hoosiers’ 7–0 start in the Big Ten came with a healthy dose of skepticism, and for good reason. Only one of those wins (a one-point win at home against Wisconsin) came against a team currently in the top six in the conference. Indiana’s schedule is back-loaded with heavyweights, which made its loss at lowly Penn State last Saturday potentially disastrous.
The defeat to the Nittany Lions was a bad loss for Indiana, adding to early non-conference losses to Wake Forest and UNLV. More tough games may await the 20–5 Hoosiers, but this was a marquee win that Tom Crean’s team really needed, one that can go a long way when it comes to NCAA tournament seeding. For Iowa, a team in the fight for a No. 1 seed, it’s a missed opportunity for a solid road win and a chance to keep sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
Thursday’s result means there are now three Big Ten teams sitting atop the standings at 10–2: Indiana, Iowa and Maryland. The Terrapins hold the tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes, having already been victorious in their only matchup this season. Indiana and Iowa will play once more in Iowa City on March 1, while Maryland and Indiana’s only matchup this season comes in both teams’ regular-season finale on March 5 in Bloomington.
On paper, the Hawkeyes appear to have the easiest schedule the rest of the way, with the rematch against Indiana being their biggest test left, but Iowa’s loss in College Park would loom large if it and Maryland win out. The Terrapins still have to play at Purdue and Indiana and host a Michigan team that beat them in Ann Arbor, and the Hoosiers have games at Michigan State and Iowa and at home against Purdue and Maryland. Buckle up, because this could be a wild ride to the finish.