One week ago, Indiana coach Archie Miller stressed the need for an improved defense from his Indiana team after a highly disappointing performance and eighth consecutive loss to Purdue.
While the defense wasn’t good in that game, one might say that Indiana’s offense was the real issue throughout the season and in that matchup specifically as a one-dimensional scoring attack faltered late and cost the team.
Miller was right, though, as the week off led to a staunch defensive effort and 81-69 road win at No. 4 Iowa against one of the nation’s best offenses.
“I think that the week off really, really helped us,” Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “I think our defensive intensity was raised in practice… I thought that really transferred over to the game.”
The win could not have come at a better time for Indiana who had struggled to turn the corner in close games against good teams. The Hoosiers finally got their signature win and improved to 9-6 on the season and 4-4 in the Big Ten.
Not only did Indiana pick up a massive win for its confidence and resume, but IU did it while being extremely shorthanded. The Hoosiers only had nine healthy scholarship players for the game with Trey Galloway out with a sore back Thursday in addition to Joey Brunk who hasn’t played all season.
Moreover, Indiana’s tallest and most effective players in Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson each faced massive foul trouble for the game that kept them out for extended periods and in crucial spots. At the 8:10 mark of the second half, Jackson-Davis picked up his fourth foul and had to sit on the bench with Thompson who had already reached four fouls six minutes earlier.
With Jackson-Davis and Thompson each sitting to avoid fouling out with one more, Indiana had to play a much taller Iowa team with two 6-foot-7 players in the post in Jordan Geronimo and Jerome Hunter.
At the point of the last Jackson-Davis foul, the game was tied 53-53. To follow, the defense tightened up and Indiana’s limited depth was on full display with a concerted defensive effort, going on a 28-16 run to dominantly close out the Hawkeyes.
The disciplined finish to the game shows how Indiana has matured as a team. Throughout the season, the final eight minutes in close games had been Indiana’s worst enemy as the team had opportunities but couldn’t finish against Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida State, and others.
“It became apparent that if we don’t kind of draw a line in the sand for ourselves… we’re not going to be able to get to where we want to get to,” Miller said of the team’s recent effort. “At some point you’ve got to be able to do what you want to do in the game every day.”
Indiana held Iowa — which was averaging 92.2 points per game — to a season-low 69 points thanks to that that united defensive effort.
Iowa’s center and the National Player of the Year frontrunner Luka Garza had 28 points, but outside of him Iowa’s other contributors were kept in check.
Iowa’s second-leading scorer, Joe Wieskamp, had 15 first-half points, but was held to one in the second half. Jordan Bohannon, who has had tremendous success against Indiana in the past was scoreless, going 0-for-9 from the field.
Indiana also took away Iowa’s biggest collective threat — the 3-point shot. The Hawkeyes were a 39.5% 3-point shooting team going into the game. On Thursday, Indiana guarded the arc well, holding the Hawkeyes to a dismal 5-for-23 (21%) 3-point display.
Individually, Geronimo did a tremendous job on defense limiting Garza and protecting the rim despite being undersized. Garza had a four-inch height advantage and struggled against the freshman forward.
“I thought Jordan Geronimo… best game he’s played as an Indiana player,” Miller said. “His contribution tonight was awesome in terms of how he brought energy and how physical he was.”
Geronimo held Garza to just six points in the crucial last 8:10 of the game that defined Indiana’s win. Three of those points were from free throws and the other three were from a late 3-pointer in the last 30 seconds of the game.
Offensively, Geronimo provided good effort, too. He had seven points on 3-for-3 shooting from the field, including an emphatic one-hand dunk that encapsulated Indiana’s momentum and excitement in finally finishing a big win.