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Anthony Leal pumps up the crowd during Indiana's win over Iowa on Jan. 30, 2024. (HN photo/Ryan Lo)
Anthony Leal pumps up the crowd during Indiana's win over Iowa on Jan. 30, 2024. (HN photo/Ryan Lo)

‘We’re figuring out how to win’: Indiana makes plays down the stretch to beat Iowa

The Hoosiers learned from mistakes against Illinois

Two and a half minutes into Tuesday’s game, Malik Reneau limped heavily into the locker room after suffering a lower-body injury. With two and a half minutes left in the game, Xavier Johnson grimaced, holding onto his arm as he headed into the locker room. 

With just 15 seconds left in the game, Indiana had the 72-68 lead. Iowa’s Josh Dix missed a 3-point jumper, and Anthony Leal collected his seventh rebound. Fouled, Leal headed to the line. Downing both free throws, Leal had continued his career night, and Indiana had snapped its four-game losing streak to the Iowa Hawkeyes, 74-68. 

Next man up mentality. 

“I gave him the game ball after the game,” Mike Woodson said. “I thought he was huge.” 

Leal, one of Indiana’s senior guards, emerged as one of the key players for Indiana on Tuesday night, providing much-needed leadership and a spark for the Hoosiers when it was needed the most. 

Finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds on the stat sheet, Leal hit a new career high in points and boards, and continues to be a key veteran role for this young Hoosier team. 

“Where I come from in the NBA, you call that a true pro,” Woodson said. “He’s been a true, true teammate. And guys like that, it’s easy to coach. It’s easy to throw them in the game and feel good about it because you know what you’re going to get based on how he performs in practice.” 

With players returning and players exiting the game, injuries played a prevalent role for Indiana against the Hawkeyes. Returning to the court after missing two consecutive games was starting center Kel’el Ware, who made his presence known with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in the victory. 

Kel'el Ware goes up for a dunk during Indiana's win over Iowa on Jan. 30, 2024. (HN photo/Ryan Lo)

Especially with Reneau’s early absence in the game, Ware provided the necessary piece inside the paint that the Hoosiers crucially needed to help Woodson secure his first win over Iowa in his tenure. 

“We needed him back in the worst way,” Woodson said. “Games like this, man, it’s huge for our ball club. He gets 23 and 10 and three blocks. We were missing his length and ability to block shots. We just didn’t have it.” 

Ware returning brought Indiana a defensive presence that had been missing for weeks. In the win, Indiana held Iowa, a team that averaged 84.4 points per game, to 68 points. 

The Hoosiers maintained a solid lead from Mackenzie Mgbako’s early triple under one minute into the game to give Indiana the 5-3 lead, and it wasn’t until 8:43 left in the game that Iowa saw a lead in the game again. 

Anthony Walker celebrates during Indiana's win over Iowa on Jan. 30, 2024. (HN photo/Ryan Lo)

Indiana down two starters and Iowa keeping it close, the game was tied at 66 after Trey Galloway knocked down two free throws, and Iowa called a timeout with 1:45 remaining in the game. 

“I think it was a huddle we had with maybe a minute and a half. I mentioned we were just here, we were just here against Illinois,” Leal said. “We weren’t able to figure out how to win. It’s something about this team and how we have a lot of new guys but we’re figuring out how to win. And this was a good step in that direction.”

Following the timeout, Iowa inbounded the ball, and Payton Sandfort immediately downed a long 2-point jumper. 68-66, Iowa.

In Indiana’s first offensive possession since the timeout, with 1:26 left in the game, Galloway found Gabe Cupps who sank the 3, to give Cupps his first points of the night, and the Hoosiers the 69-68 lead. 

One minute later, Indiana’s defense had prevailed and Indiana had a 70-68 lead. Mgbako missed a corner 3, Galloway secured the offensive rebound, and Ware connected with the rim for the slam to give the Hoosiers the four-point lead over the Hawkeyes, with Leal adding the final cherry on top to give Indiana its fifth conference win this season. 

Snapping its three-game losing streak on Tuesday night, Indiana hopes to continue “figuring out how to win.” IU will be back in action on Saturday as the Penn State Nittany Lions (9-11) come to town to face the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall. 

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