Iowa entered tonight's game off a week's rest from last week's demoralizing bludgeoning at the hands of Wisconsin for a home game against an Indiana team sitting at 3-2 in the Big Ten and fresh off back-to-back home wins over Ohio State and Minnesota. But road games have been a different story for the Hoosiers; entering tonight, IU was 12-0 in home or neutral court games, but 0-3 in road games, losing in 2OT at Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and then dropping their first two Big Ten roadies against Wisconsin (OK) and Penn State (er...). It's hard to call any game a "must win" game at this point of the season, but a loss here would have dropped Iowa to 1-4 in the Big Ten, which would have put them in quite a hole. So what happened? Well... the Hoosiers are now 0-4 in true road games this season and Iowa is clawing their way to a .500 record in the Big Ten after an 83-74 victory on Thursday night.
This game presented an interesting match-up as it featured the Big Ten's second-most efficient offense (Iowa) against the league's most efficient defense (Indiana). The strength of the Hoosier defense this season has been their field goal defense; teams are posting an eFG% of just 43.8% against them this season, which is pretty stingy. And while Iowa won this game, it wasn't because they suddenly shot the lights out against that defense; Iowa finished the game having made 44% of their field goal attempts (28/63) and just 33% of their 3-point tries (6/18). Those numbers were even worse in the second half (41% shooting overall, 17% (1/6) from 3-point range), despite Iowa outscoring them 42-26 in the second half? So what gives? Well, defense, turnovers, and free throws... but we'll get to that in a minute.
The game started out at a brisk pace, with both teams making plenty of shots and trading the lead. It was a game of runs early, with the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes trading 8-0 and 10-0 runs. That came to a screeching halt when Keegan Murray picked up his second foul of the game with 9:32 to play in the half... and promptly entered Fran's infamous two-foul jail. Indiana seized on his absence and put together a 20-4 run to take control of the game. Despite Keegan's absence (he remained locked away in two-foul jail for the remainder of the half), Iowa did manage to claw a deficit that got as large as 11 points back to just 7 points heading into halftime (48-41).
A fast start by Iowa in the second half set the tone for Iowa; they opened up after halftime on an 8-2 run and cut the IU lead to just 50-49 three minutes into the half. Six of those eight points came after Indiana turnovers, which became a recurring theme for the Hoosiers in the second half. Still, the Hoosiers kept the Hawkeyes at bay until the midway point of the second half; a twisting Tony Perkins layup (once again off an IU turnover) gave Iowa a 59-57 lead, their first since early in the first half. They did not relinquish that lead the rest of the game, thanks to some big made buckets by Murray (but maybe not the one you're expecting) and some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.
Let's get back to the eventual keys to victory for Iowa in this game: defense, turnovers, and free throws. After giving up 48 points to the Hoosiers on 58% shooting in the first half, Iowa held them to just 26 points on 41% shooting in the second half. This will never be a great defensive team, but they put together multiple good defensive possessions in the second half of this game and effort like that will go a long way in enabling them to grind out Big Ten wins. They also showed a much-improved effort on the glass; they actually out-rebounded Indiana in this game, 35-31, with a 16-12 edge in offensive rebounds. It turns out it's a lot easier to win when the other team isn't getting multiple bites at the apple on offense and holding you to just one shot on every possession.
Turnovers were also a massive part of Iowa's comeback in this game; IU had just over 20 turnovers combined in their previous three games, but coughed the ball up 23 times (!) here. Iowa converted those giveaways into a pretty staggering 34-18 edge in points off turnovers. Iowa scored 21 points off 14 (!) Indiana giveaways in the second half alone. I'm not sure what percentage of Iowa's made turnovers in the second half came from Indiana turnovers, but it had to be a pretty big number. Some of the turnovers were the result of careless or lazy play by the Hoosiers, but Iowa also managed to force a lot of IU miscues, both with their press and through some harrying defense in half-court sets.
Finally, free throw shooting proved to be a very pivotal difference between Iowa and Indiana in this game, especially in the second half. This was, to put it mildly, not an especially well-officiated game, even by the low standards of Big Ten referees. More than a few out-of-bounds decisions were flat-out wrong and the definition of what a foul was seemed to change not just minute-by-minute but possession-by-possession. In the first half (and the early part of the second half), Iowa's bigs seemed to get fouls for any sort of contact on an Indiana player -- or even just for looking at a Hoosier wrong. The referees ended up calling a lot of fouls on the Hoosiers as well (some of which were just as suspect as the ones going against Iowa on the other end, if we're being honest) and the whole game was just a little too much of a ref show for long stretches. That said, if you're going to play in a game with whistle-happy referees, you better be able to make your free throws. Iowa could and Indiana couldn't and that ended up being a big reason why Iowa came away as the winner in this game. Free throws were a push in the first half -- Indiana made 8/10, Iowa made 8/11 -- but Iowa crushed them at the line in the second half -- 13/14 versus 5/11. That +8 advantage in free throws was kind of a big deal in a game Iowa won by 9 points.
Actually, I lied: there was a fourth key to victory for Iowa in this game: KRIS FREAKING MURRAY. The "other" Murray twin had his biggest and best game of the season, exploding for 29 points and 11 rebounds, both career-highs. Murray had 17 points on 7/11 shooting in the first half alone and his magnificent play was one of the only things keeping Iowa within striking distance at the break. He finished the game shooting the ball 12/18 from the floor, 2/5 from 3-point range. and 3/4 at the free throw line, while hauling in 11 rebounds (including six (!!!) offensive boards), dishing out two assists, and being an absolute menace on the defensive end as well, with three blocks and three steals. Kris Murray was the total package in this game and he was spectacular in every facet. He shone near the rim, in transition (especially in transition), and from outside and was simply a joy to behold.
It was a damn good thing that Kris played so brilliantly, too, because Iowa needed every bit of his greatness in this game. Keegan Murray, the more celebrated Murray twin this season, finished with 12 points (on 5/9 shooting) and 9 rebounds, as well as two blocks and a steal, but played just 22 minutes because of persistent foul trouble. Well, that and a lengthy first half stay in two-foul jail.
On that topic... I think Fran's rigidity when it comes to sitting players so long with two fouls is an overall foolish and outdated idea that hurts Iowa more than it helps. Indiana completely dominated most of the first half when Keegan sat and there were long stretches when Iowa's offense simply couldn't score; it would have been nice to have one of the nation's leading scorers as an option then! Locking a player away with two fouls for fear of him getting more quick fouls and not having him available in the second half does the defense's job for them. Trust your players -- especially your star players -- to play with foul trouble. That said... I will admit that the insistence on two-foul jail tonight may have made slightly more sense than usual, given the officials' quick whistles on Iowa's bigs for so much of the game. But overall two-foul jail still stinks and should be abolished.
Back to the Murrays: they were incredible in this game. How incredible? Well...
The Murray Brothers:— Justin VanLaere (@storminspank) January 14, 2022
41 points, 20 rebounds
The Rest of the Hawkeyes:
42 points, 15 rebounds
Iowa beats Indiana by 9.
That incredible. I've opined before that I don't know where Iowa would be without Keegan Murray this season; I might need to amend that to say that I don't know where Iowa would be without either of the Murray twins this year. But it's pretty clear this would very likely be a very bad team without their presence (and stupendous production). Thank God for the Murrays.
The highest-scoring non-Murray tonight was Jordan Bohannon with 11 points, though he did most of his damage at the free throw line (6/7), as he was just 2/11 from the field (1/7 from deep). Filip Rebraca only had 4 points and 4 rebounds and was dogged by foul trouble all game, but he was also a pretty jaw-dropping +20 in +/- in this game; for whatever reason, Iowa was a lot better in the 20 minutes that he was on the floor tonight. Joe Toussaint had just five points and one assist, but he also had three steals and his energy was a welcome spark to Iowa (especially at the start of the second half). Iowa also got some nice minutes from Tony Perkins, who had 8 points off the bench. And while the Murrays were the superstar brother act in this game, the McCaffery brothers also did some nice things, finishing with 10 total points and six total steals.
And that's that. Thanks to a great second half -- and a superstar performance from Kris Murray off the bench -- Iowa has avoided a 1-4 start to Big Ten play and instead sits at 2-3 with winnable games against Minnesota, Rutgers, and Penn State up next on the docket. This team is probably going to go as far as the Murrays can carry them -- but if they keep playing like this, that could definitely be farther than expected.
NEXT: Iowa faces Minnesota (10-4, 1-4 Big Ten) in Minneapolis on Sunday, January 16 at 1 PM CT (BTN).