Iowa 72, Indiana 57
Iowa returned home to a near capacity crowd after their heartbreaking loss to Northwestern. The support of the fans and the benching of most of the starters resulted in a defensive quality that was missing at the end of the previous game. For the second game in a row, Iowa went to the last TV timeout with a 12 point lead. Coach Alford made sure to remind his guys how that turned out last time, and they responded by adding three points to their margin in a win against Indiana on Saturday.
Alford benched Erek Hansen and captains Greg Brunner, Pierre Pierce, and Jeff Horner at tip-off in favor of Doug Thomas, Alex Thompson, Mike Henderson and Carlton Reed. Alford said the motivation for the decision was "not to punish" his starters, but to let them know there are "consequences" for poor play. Interpret that however you like, but the results speak for themselves, both in terms of shot selection and team defense. Iowa held the Hoosiers to an anemic 41.3 adjFG% and just 57 points in the 61 possession game, or a rate of 93.4 points per 100 possessions. Iowa was hot at the other end, shooting a blistering 66 adjFG%, thanks to increased involvement from Jeff Horner and plenty of shots close to the basket. Horner took nine shots and passed his way to nine assists.
Pierce was another key to Iowa's victory. He shut down Bracey Wright, who came in leading the conference in points per game. Much like Minnesota's Vincent Grier, Wright got into early foul trouble guarding Pierce, and played only 25 minutes after averaging 39.7 in his first 6 conference games. Even when he was in the game, Wright couldn't find a good shot, hitting only 4-12, with a handful of his 10 points coming on broken plays or after picking up a loose ball near the basket. Pierce also limited Wright to just 2 free throw attempts, which took away a major part of his scoring arsenal. Wright was one of the leaders in FTA/FGA among Big Ten guards.
- The 14,000+ fans in attendance were delighted by the reappearance of Jeff Horner's shooting ability. The 6'3" guard again found the touch that has been missing throughout much of the Big Ten, hitting 6 of 9 FG and 4 of 6 threes. He also created plenty of scoring opportunities in dishing out nine assists, including a second half alley-oop to Thunder Doug Thomas that just about brought the building down. It's been stated often here, and is apparent to most Hawkeye obsevers, that this team is simply better off when Horner plays a big role in the offense, whether that be hitting threes or finding open teammates. He alleviates some of the offensive pressure on Pierce when he becomes a scorer, and his passing ability leads to easy baskets for guys like Thomas and Brunner. When Horner is not involved, you end up with Pierce-on-five, with Pierre shooting about 40% and turning the ball over 5 or 10 times.
- Speaking of Pierre, he played another great game. The guy that Alford calls the defensive player of the year in the Big Ten was good with the ball too. He hit 9 of his 14 shots and kept his turnovers in check, finishing with three. Perhaps more impressively, Pierce hit his first six free throws (though he did miss the last two). The Big Ten leader in steals padded his lead with another five in this game. He's just behind pace to break Ryan Bowen's team steals record, assuming a conservative estimate of 31 games for the season.
- Greg Brunner was Iowa's best offensive weapon against Northwestern, but Alford publicly derided his defensive effort. Brunner always seems to respond to the coach's negativity, as he hit the defensive glass hard and added three steals. He finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds, including his 7th three pointer of the season. The next one he hits will mark his career high.
- Alford said he started Doug Thomas (and has given him more playing time recently) to send a message to Erek Hansen. The message this Hawkeye fan is getting is that Thomas is the better player and should see increased minutes down the stretch. Thunder Doug was solid again today, hitting 4 of 5 shots for 8 points in 24 minutes. Those four FGs were comprised of three more huge dunks and another of Doug's remarkably consistent jump shots. I love watching this guy dunk - I've never seen anyone throw the ball down as hard as he does, and that intensity revs the crowd up more than any other player on this team. Sure, he gets a little excited sometimes and misses a dunk attempt that he should've passed up, but I think his 58 FG% suggests that his shot selection is just fine.
- I also thought Doug played some tough defense against Indiana's star freshman D.J. White. Doug did a great job of keeping his feet and playing straight up in the second half after he got into foul trouble. White shot 66% for his first 6 Big Ten games, second in the conference, but was held to 6-17 FG in this game, though he did get to the line enough times to score 23 points. Thomas once again picked up a lot of fouls in a short amount of time, but at least one of them, Doug's fifth, was what the Spanish call el terrible. White posted up Doug, Doug kept his position and had his hands in the air, and Pierce hacked White on the arm as he turned around to shoot. Everyone in the building knew the foul should've been on Pierce and booed heartily when the refs told Thomas to take a seat.
- Erek Hansen, what happened? I thought this guy showed tons of promise early in the season. There was a little hype about his improvement after attending Pete Newell's Big Man Camp, and he even displayed some nifty post moves and a decent scoring average to go with his monster shot blocking ability. That early performance helped hide his inability to rebound, which is especially glaring now that he can't score against Big Ten centers. In Iowa's seven conference games, Hansen is 6-21 FG for 14 points and has 13 rebounds, all in 19 mpg. There's plenty of debate in Hawkeye land about whether to play Hansen or Thomas, and Hansen's supporters often claim that his shot blocking ability keeps opposing players from trying to score inside. Tell that to D.J. White, who had two poster-rific dunks right over Hansen on Saturday. I've been leaning toward advocating Doug for several games now, and those dunks really eliminated any doubt I had left. (I'm not saying that Hansen doesn't keep opponents from shooting inside, but I thought those dunks would be fun to mention. My main beef with Hansen is that he doesn't rebound.)
- Adam Haluska still seems to be struggling to find his niche in Iowa's offense. He only managed to make 1 of 5 shots today, and foul trouble again limited his minutes. He picked up 3 PF in 20 minutes, before leaving the game with an injury. Haluska hustled after a loose ball near the sideline and collided with an Indiana player late in the second half. It kind of looked like a rolled ankle, but I had a hard time seeing since it happened in front of the press table on my side of the court. He was helped into the locker room, didn't put any weight on the foot as he left, and didn't return to the sideline. I haven't heard any updates on his situation yet.
As Bobby Hansen noted on the post-game radio show, good shooting can cover up your mistakes. There wasn't much talk of it after the game, but Iowa did have 15 turnovers on their 61 possessions, or about 25%. That's pretty high, but Iowa again benefitted from plenty of opponent turnovers, getting 16 in this game. Another shortcoming, in what has been a recurring theme, was allowing offensive rebounds to Indiana. The Hoosiers had 15 off rebounds to Iowa's 20 def rebounds, or an alarmingly high 43%. That should concern Alford as Iowa faces a great offensive rebounding team in Michigan State next week. Let's hope he addresses the problem (by playing Doug Thomas, heh).
Other than that, it was another solid win for Iowa. It was easy to get down on the team after the loss against Northwestern. But if you put things in perspective, as does Hawkeye Nation creator Jon Miller, Iowa is off to a 15-5 start, which is in line with some of the better seasons in recent memory. By the way, Jon writes excellent post-game recaps, which are always worth a read if they're not restricted for subscribers. Here's an example from Saturday.
Looking back, the Northwestern game doesn't bug me as much as it did immediately following the game. The home loss to Michigan bothers me more, as it was the only time this season that Iowa did a poor job of protecting the home court. The Hawkeyes now have a full week to prepare for a home battle with Michigan State, and I think they'll continue the recent trend of playing well in Carver-Hawkeye.
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