BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — If Thursday night is any indication, the battle for the Big Ten Conference championship is going to be wild.
No. 22 Indiana outlasted fifth-ranked Iowa 85-78 before 17,472 raucous fans at Assembly Hall to force a three-way tie atop the league with six games to go.
The veteran Hawkeyes (19-5, 10-2 Big Ten) showed fight, rallying from a 16-point deficit to take the lead, but simply ran out of gas against an Indiana team (20-5, 10-2) that remained perfect at home. Maryland (22-3, 10-2) is right in the mix, too, with a game at Indiana to finish the regular season.
Iowa leaned on its five veteran starters to try to pull this one out. They scored every Hawkeye point, led by Jarrod Uthoff’s 24 and Mike Gesell’s 17.
Uthoff played 38 minutes, Adam Woodbury 35, Anthony Clemmons 34, Gesell 32 and Peter Jok 30.
But Indiana got help from a lot of guys, getting 28 bench points to Iowa’s zero in riding a wave of momentum to improve to 6-1 against AP Top 5 teams in the last five years. (Iowa ranks fourth in the latest Associated Press poll.)
“It was a tough one to swallow,” Uthoff said.
Woodbury scored 13 points with 15 rebounds for Iowa.
With 14 points, Yogi Ferrell (2-for-12 field goals, 8-for-8 free throws) led 10 different Indiana players who scored.
"A big part of it was (coach Tom) Crean in the huddles. He kept telling us, 'We're going to win this game, we're going to win this game,'" Ferrell said. "I felt like, looking around, guys believed we were going to win this game. We basically carried that on the court."
Ferrell said Indiana was withstand Iowa's punch. And it was quite an uppercut.
Iowa scored 27 points on 13 consecutive possessions to turn a 36-20 deficit into a 47-45 lead, capped by Jok’s fast-break lay-in to stun an electric crowd that was wound-up from the get-go at this 9:06 p.m. local-time tip.
“We’re a team that never quits," Woodbury said. "We’re always going to be in the game.”
The Hawkeye comeback was eerily similar to their last trip to this state. On Jan. 2 at Purdue, Iowa trailed by 19 points early in the second half before unleashing a scorching-hot stretch to take a 48-46 lead and pulling away to a 70-63 win.
But in this one, the Hawkeyes couldn’t complete the job. After building a 60-56 advantage with 9:35 to play, Indiana went on a 14-2 run, capped by Ferrell’s 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 70-62 Indiana with 6:24 to play.
From there, Indiana hung on. The Hoosiers made 18-of-21 from the line, compared with Iowa’s 13-of-23.
“We had a few costly turnovers at bad times,” said Gesell, who became the 45th Hawkeye to score 1,000 career points with an early lay-in Thursday. "Just different times we didn’t come up with the big plays.”
All of this occurred after a first half that couldn’t have gone much better for Indiana.
The Hoosiers averaged an incredible 1.50 points per possession in the first half (the national leader averages 1.24), thanks in part to 12 offensive rebounds and 7-of-13 3-point shooting.
“We came out kind of tentative, especially on the rebounding end,” Uthoff said."They were aggressive, they were physical, they had something to prove."
Yet for all that, their halftime lead was only 45-38.
Iowa had trailed by as many as 16 when Colin Hartman’s 3-pointer found net with 6:03 left. That 36-20 deficit prompted Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who generally errs on letting his guys play through opponent runs, to call a timeout.
That seemed to both calm and awaken the Hawkeyes, who were disheveled early as Indiana overwhelmed them on the offensive glass. The Hoosiers racked up 17 second-chance points in the first half.
Out of the timeout, Iowa scored on its remaining eight possessions of the first half, starting off with its own second-chance bucket, a Clemmons layup after Jok rebounded his own missed 3-pointer. Iowa cranked up its defensive intensity to close out the half, setting the stage for a furious finish.
“You just hope the guys are honest with themselves as far as things they could’ve done differently … if they had to do it over again," McCaffery said. "And you move on. You don’t look back, but you don’t pretend like it didn’t happen, either.”