IU Hangs On At Iowa
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Robert Johnson wasn't about to let Indiana lose.
Not on Saturday. Not with the Hoosiers peaking at the right time and opportunity growing with every victory.
So the senior guard did what coaches need senior leaders to do when facing an early 13-point deficit – play their best when it matters most.
It very much mattered at Iowa, and Johnson was more than ready.
He tied a school record with nine three-pointers, three more than he'd ever made in a game before.
He hit when he was closely guarded and when he wasn't. He found the open man enough for four assists. He played mouthwash-range defense.
Indiana won, 84-82.
It was the Hoosiers' fourth straight victory and boosted them to 16-12 overall, 9-7 in the Big Ten.
Johnson tied the school record for three-point baskets in a game held by Rod Wilmont and Matt Roth. He finished 9-for-12 beyond the arc for a career high 29 points.
"Give Rob a lot of credit," coach Archie Miller told Voice of the Hoosiers Don Fischer during the post-game radio show. "What a big-time performance."
Johnson had plenty of help from guard Devonte Green, who had 18 points, six assists and one turnover. His final assist, a spectacular pass to Freddie McSwain, produced the game-winning layup.
Justin Smith had 15 points. Juwan Morgan added 12 points. Collin Hartman didn't score, but had five assists and played solid defense.
The Hoosiers are surging at the right time. Next up – at Nebraska on Tuesday night before ending the season Friday night by hosting Ohio State.
"At this time of year," Miller told Fischer, "you can watch a thousand teams and the games all come down to having to get a key stop or basket.
"We're no different. We're playing for a lot. Our guys are excited. It's the last week of the regular season and we're playing our best ball.
"We've got to watch the film and get a little better. Nebraska is next. That's the only thing we can control."
Iowa (12-17, 3-13) rocked Indiana early. The Hoosiers absorbed it, then rocked back harder.
An early 13-point deficit was basically wiped out by halftime. IU would have its second-half chance.
"They hit us in the mouth early," Miller said, "We relied on our experience at Ohio State where we went away. This time we didn't go away."
Specifically IU went 14-for-24 on three-pointers to provide much-needed vindication to Miller's season-long assertion that the Hoosiers were a good perimeter shooting team even if the statistics didn't show it.
"We really shared the ball," Miller said. "Our zone offense was good. We moved the ball in and out. And once you make a couple of big baskets, it's contagious.
"For the first time all year, our offense saved us when our defense wasn't very good."
Indiana arrived with defensive ill will.
That was a very good thing.
In early December, IU's defense rated No. 197 in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com, a highly regarded advanced metric website.
What is adjusted defensive efficiency?
Basically, it measures points allowed per 100 defensive possessions.
By Saturday the Hoosiers had boosted that to No. 52, the best in the Big Ten, with Miller aiming to crack the top-50 by the time the regular season ended with Friday's home game against Ohio State.
The next step started with Iowa … and the defense was surprisingly vulnerable.
The Hoosier couldn't get stops early, when Iowa attacked the paint relentlessly to hit its first 10 shots and take a 23-10 lead. The Hawkeyes missed their next two shots, but maintained a double-digit advantage.
The Hoosiers didn't quit.
Green kept them within range with 10 points. Smith followed with his own 10 points. Finally, Johnson found his three-point range. He had three for nine points.
An added boost -- Indiana kept turnovers to a minimum.
The result – IU trailed just 45-42 at halftime.
The Hoosiers opened the second half with their seventh three-pointer (and Johnson's fourth) for a 45-45 tie, then tied it again at 49-49, then yet again at 52-52.
IU got its first lead of the game on a Smith free throw with 16 minutes left.
Then Johnson hit his fifth three-pointer. Green hit his fourth. The Hoosiers pushed ahead 60-56.
Johnson hit three more three-pointers. IU's lead swelled to 13, a 26-point turnaround from the first half.
Iowa closed within a point on a 14-2 run before Johnson hit a tough runner. Johnson followed with a three-point play and a 79-75 Indiana lead.
The Hawkeyes got back within a point. Johnson hit his ninth three-pointer for a cushion. Iowa wiped it out for an 82-82 tie.
Green delivered a spectacular pass to McSwain for a layup and a two-point lead.
In the closing seconds, Iowa had a chance to force overtime, but missed a pair of shots and Morgan grabbed the clinching rebound.
"At the end of day, did you win the game?" Miller told Fischer. "To win in this environment, I'm proud of our group."