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IOWA CITY – The Iowa men’s basketball team found itself down 13 in the first half. The Hawkeyes were down eight with 4:46 to go. They were down by seven at five different points of the second half.
Each time, Iowa worked its way back. Four times, Iowa worked back to tie the game. Finally, with 2:10 to go, the Hawkeyes got over the hump to take their first lead. The game of runs saw the game tied nine times – the sixth time enough to send Iowa to its fourth overtime game of the season.
The resiliency the Hawkeyes showed throughout regulation was rewarded with a satisfying overtime win, 96-90, against Indiana on Tuesday night.
The win comes after losses to Nebraska and Minnesota in double overtime both ended with Iowa feeling like they let a win slip away.
The Hawkeyes left Carver-Hawkeye Arena feeling much differently Tuesday night.
“For us to kind of be able to take the game over instead of playing not to lose, we played to win today. Today it didn’t matter who they had or didn’t have on the floor, we just made sure we played our game. That’s when we got good looks at the basket,” freshman forward Tyler Cook said. “We were aggressive defensively. I keep going back to Ryan (Kriener)’s blocks (in overtime). If you go for a block and miss, that puts you at a disadvantage rebounding. He trusted himself and went and got those blocks.
“Plays like that is the difference in those two styles of play.”
Iowa (15-13, 7-8 Big Ten) snapped a three-game losing streak after an inauspicious start to the game. Indiana jumped out to a 9-0 lead and the Hawkeyes looked out of sync on both ends. Coach Fran McCaffery even pulled his entire starting five before the first media timeout.
But as the game wore on, bursts of offensive success and active defense forcing turnovers allowed Iowa to stay in and eventually extend the game. The Hoosiers (15-13, 5-10) came into the game as one of the worst teams in the country in turnover percentage, and the Hawkeyes exploited that to the tune of 22 forced turnovers.
What enabled Iowa to repeatedly work back into the game? Four players in double-figures and six players who had vital individual moments at important points in the game.
Peter Jok once again led the way for the Hawkeyes with 35 points on 6 of 12 shooting – 22 of 23 from the free-throw line – and added five rebounds, but it was the underclassmen who supplemented his record-setting night from the free-throw line. Jok’s 22 free throws broke Don Nelson’s record set in 1962, also against Indiana.
Point guard Christian Williams – who saw his starting job taken away by Jordan Bohannon earlier this season and subsequently a dramatic drop in minutes – finished with a career-high 10 points, but added several highlight-reel plays. He tossed up a lob for Tyler Cook that tied the game at 70-70 with 2:46 to go, and had a steal he turned into a dunk late in the first half.
Cook, who struggled early from the field, got multiple important rebounds and his and-1 dunk with 2:10 to go gave the Hawkeyes their first lead. He finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
Nicholas Baer, who’s had a nose for those important plays while a Hawkeye, had an and-1 tip-slam off a Jok missed 3-pointer, and while he missed the free throw – “I’ll knock the next one down. I saw my teammates and wanted to celebrate with them. I almost knocked them out. It was a good time,” Baer said – the play got the Iowa crowd back on its feet after a preceding run by Indiana. He finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Bohannon, who struggled offensively to start the game, helped ice the game at the free-throw line in another cathartic result for a player who thought a lot about the pair of free throws at the end of the Illinois loss. Bohannon finished with nine points on 6 of 6 shooting from the line, and his six assists and four steals kept the game flowing and Hoosier guards on their toes.
Kriener, as mentioned by Cook, finished with four points, but had three blocks – all in the overtime period – that denied Indiana a chance to get back in the game.
Without one of those performances – all but one from an underclassman – Iowa likely leaves Carver-Hawkeye Arena disappointed again.
“If the bench guys didn’t have energy from the start, we could’ve folded right there and been down 20 from the start of the game,” Bohannon said. “We had guys who stepped up right (away) off the bench, provided us energy. We were able to get runs going. It was huge for us down the stretch. We kept our confidence; kept our composure.”
The win was cathartic based on how the previous three had ended, but it also kept alive some hope for an NIT berth. Iowa will likely have to win at least one of its next two games at No. 24 Maryland and at No. 15 Wisconsin and close out with a win at home against Penn State, but the first step was taken Tuesday night.
The Hawkeyes talked about staying mentally sharp over the final four regular-season games, and backed up that discussion against the Hooisers. They made their coach proud – the myriad who contributed – and reminded themselves they can put it together.
“I was incredibly impressed, and I told them so after the game how proud I was of them. And the beautiful thing was it was so many different people,” McCaffery said. “Like I said, there were a number of times where we could have packed it in and we never did. That says a lot about our guys.”
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