Well. That was unpleasant.
Days after perhaps their best offensive performance of the season in a rout of Northwestern, Iowa turned in what was unquestionably their worst offensive performance of the year, bricking their way to an 81-69 loss at home to a struggling Indiana team. Absolutely nothing went right after halftime and the end result was Iowa's worst loss of the season by far in what was one of their worst performances in the last few seasons. Did you think this team was too good to have an outing like this? Turns out they're not!
Iowa and Indiana traded buckets at the start of the game, before Iowa settled into a lead that they retained for most of the half. But while they had the lead, they could never firmly take control of the game -- any brief run they put together was answered by the Hoosiers. Still Iowa took a 37-31 lead into the break and things seemed mostly okay. Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp were humming, each with 15 points, although it was a touch concerning that no one else could find a rhythm on offense in the opening 20 minutes.
That problem went from "a touch concerning" to "full-blown mega-problem" in the second half, as the non-Garza and Wieskamp Hawkeyes remained unable to do anything on offense, while Garza labored to score and Wieskamp was invisible. After scoring 15 points on 6/8 shooting (3/4 from deep) in the first half, he had just one point in the second half, going 0/2 from the floor and 1/3 from the free throw line. He made more turnovers (2) than he did points (1), though he did manage to grab six rebounds.
Wieskamp had a forgettable second half -- but so did every single other Hawkeye on the court tonight. That was the worst 20 minutes of basketball that Iowa has played in over a year. The Minnesota loss on Christmas was frustrating, but that was at least a quick meltdown -- this was 20 minutes of agonizingly poor basketball, in every facet of the game. Iowa shot just 26.5% (9/34) from the floor, and even that putrid number was goosed by a handful of makes in the final seconds when the game was out of reach. They were 1/10 from 3-point range. 13/18 at the free throw line. They coughed the ball up eight times. It turns out going eleven minutes without a made field goal is a Very Bad Thing.
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers shot 60% from the floor. One of the Big Ten's worst three-point shooting teams went 4/6 (67%) from behind the arc. They only thing preventing this game from being even uglier was Indiana's wretched free throw shooting -- they were 16/25 (64%) from the line in the second half, which was an improvement on their 5/10 outing in the first half. If Indiana had shot free throws even moderately well, they would have won this game by 20.
And Indiana took control of the game with their best player -- superstar sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis -- sitting on the bench in foul trouble for several minutes. In fact, both of Indiana's main bigs -- TJD and Race Thompson -- sat for extended stretches in the second half due to foul trouble. Jackson-Davis had an excellent game overall, 23 points on 9/14 shooting and 7 rebounds, but IU was able to blast Iowa because he got a lot of help from his teammates. Rob Phinisee was excellent -- 18 points on 6/12 shooting (4/7 from deep) and his threes were key during Indiana's big second half run. Two other Hoosiers, Aljami Durham (14 points) and Armaan Franklin (11 points) also finished in double figures; Iowa had no one in double figures other than Garza and Wieskamp.
The rest of Iowa's starters had dreadful games, led by Jordan Bohannon, who finished a woeful 0/9 (0/8 from deep) in the game. He missed a few good looks early, but in the second half he was taking (and badly missing) some truly ugly shots, including off-balance heaves. Iowa was looking for an offensive spark from someone -- anyone -- but that wasn't it. CJ Fredrick also finished with zero points, albeit on just 0/2 shooting after sitting out the entire second half with a lower leg/foot injury. Hopefully whatever's ailing him is mild and he can return to good form soon; Iowa badly missed him tonight. Iowa's third starter, Connor McCaffery, had five points and four assists, but also struggled with fouls and had several bad defensive lapses.
Iowa's bench didn't provide many bright spots, either. Keegan Murray had 8 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes, but he was limited by foul trouble and had his own share of defensive lapses. (But that was also true of every single Iowa player tonight, starter or reserve; this was a miserable defensive performance on every level.) Jack Nunge had 5 points and 5 rebounds, but struggled with consistency. Joe Toussaint finished with seven points -- all in the game's final minutes. One of the most puzzling things about this game was the lack of minutes for Toussaint, who played just six minutes in the first half and played just the final two minutes of the second half, despite the fact that the team was an absolute disaster for most of the second half and crying out for a sparkplug -- on offense and defense. Freshman Tony Perkins played twice as many minutes as Toussaint in the second half, and he was the one on the court while the outcome was in doubt. That was certainly a, uh, curious decision.
This was an awful game. And it was an awful loss. The big question, of course, is what does this performance mean in the big picture. Was this just a "shit happens" game where almost everything went badly for the Hawkeyes? Or was it a glimpse of cracks in Iowa's facade, and a possible sign of future problems for Iowa?
There's no doubt that other teams will try to ugly it up on defense against Iowa as much as Indiana did in this game; their physicality definitely kept Iowa out of any sort of flow on that end and while Garza finished with 28 points, they made him work exceedingly hard for those baskets. The stats for the year suggest that this performance was a clear outlier; Iowa's not going to have another 12-minute stretch this season when they can't make a field goal. They're probably not going to shoot as badly from 3-point range (5/23) or overall (24/63) as they did in this game. But Iowa's about to enter the more challenging half of its schedule and there are other teams with more talent than the Hoosiers, as well as other teams just as happy to try and use physical play against Iowa. Iowa didn't seem to have any sort of Plan B tonight -- let's hope they find one before the next time they're in a game like this.