The Minute After: Iowa

  • 01/30/2024 10:25 pm in

Thoughts on a 74-68 win against Iowa:

For a second straight game, Indiana played with more grit and determination, showing an elevated togetherness on defense.

But this time around? The shots fell and the Hoosiers made the plays down the stretch, earning tonight’s victory as a result.

It wasn’t all smiles. Malik Reneau went down with an ankle injury early in the first half and didn’t return. After being evaluated off the floor, he returned to the bench emotional and with crutches. Xavier Johnson also came down hard after getting fouled on a dunk attempt late in the second half, writhing in pain from an arm injury that didn’t look good. And Kel’el Ware, in his return, was also hobbling around in the second half.

Still, Indiana fought through all that adversity and got it done.

The Hoosiers won this game because it held an elite offense down. Iowa’s 68 points were 17 below its average of 85 entering tonight’s contest. Iowa did find its offensive footing in the second half in transition (13 fast-break points) and Tony Perkins also proved to be a tough cover, scoring 17 of his 22 points after the break as well. Meanwhile, Payton Sandfort had it going most of the contest on his way to a game-high 26 points. Sandfort hit an insane shot from the left corner on a sidelines out of bounds play and little time left on the shot clock to put Iowa up two (68-66) with 1:42 to go. It felt like it could be Iowa’s night after that. But it was the last bucket the Hawkeyes would score all game, as Indiana held them scoreless for the remainder of the contest.

Indiana’s defense shined brightest in the first half. During one stretch, Iowa mustered just 1-of-16 shooting. The Hoosiers blocked six first-half shots and eight for the game. They held Iowa to 24 points in the paint when the Hawkeyes came in averaging 40. And Iowa, one of the better-assisting teams in the country, assisted on just 10 of its buckets tonight, down from its average of 17.

With Reneau out, Indiana found its offense in different ways. Indiana, not known for its rebounding prowess, rebounded 38 percent of its misses, which helped the Hoosiers to a 15-4 advantage on second-chance points. Ware was the catalyst there, as Iowa really had no answer for his size. Five of his 10 rebounds were of the offense variety. Four of those offensive rebounds came in the second half when it often felt like Indiana’s best offense was him cleaning up his teammates’ missed shots. The Oregon transfer’s 23 points led the way for the Hoosiers. Beyond the offensive rebounding and second-chance points, the Hoosiers thrived from deep. After missing all nine of their attempts in Champaign over the weekend, Indiana hoisted up 22 against the Hawkeyes, connecting on eight (36.4 percent).

Three of those eight came from Anthony Leal, who scored a career-high 13 points.

“It’s really not that hard to stay ready, if you’re about the right things,” Leal said in his post-game interview on the Big Ten Network. “You do the right things every day and you’re committed to the team and what the team’s working towards. So for me, it’s just loving putting this jersey on and coming to work every day and trying to get better as a team.”

Mike Woodson sang Leal’s praises post-game as well.

“Where I come from in the NBA, you call that a true pro,” Woodson said. “Anthony is the ultimate teammate in terms of hanging in there with me. I’ve coached him and he’s come to practice every day and has done what’s asked of him and never complained. Not once. He’s been a true, true, true teammate. Guys like that, it’s easy to coach. It’s easy to throw him in the game and feel good about it because you know what you’re gonna get based on how he performs in practice. He’s earned the right to play and that’s why I’m playing him.”

Another one of those 3s came from Gabe Cupps in an absolutely crucial moment. After the aforementioned Sandfort left-corner make to give Iowa a two-point advantage, Cupps stepped into a 3-pointer from the left wing with confidence and banged it home to give Indiana the lead for good. It was his only shot of the night.

The Hoosiers might be down two starters in Reneau and Johnson by the time the ball is tipped on Saturday afternoon against Penn State. But without them late in the game tonight, Indiana dug deep and pulled out the W. After losing three straight, it was a gutsy performance by a team not giving up on the season.

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