IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa shot 78 percent from the line while forcing 24th-ranked Purdue to shoot from outside the arc as the Hawkeyes downed the Boilermakers 71-61 Wednesday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We talked about it for a couple of weeks, and whether some people believe me or not, it came to fruition tonight,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said, “the difference was foul shooting. When you can make free throws, it makes the offense look better.”
The Hawkeyes improve to 8-3 on the year after the Big Ten season-opener, while Purdue drops to 10-4. Iowa has opened Big Ten play with a win in each of the last seven seasons. But the Boilermakers still hold a 74-65 advantage in the series.
The Boilermakers jumped out to a 5-0 lead to start after a quick 3-pointer by Kenneth Lowe and a lay-up by Brandon McKnight, who were both pegged by Alford as major scoring threats.
Lowe went 6-of-14 for a team-high 19 points, while McKnight joined the legions of Purdue shooters in single digits at nine.
Helped by perfect free throws by Jeff Horner and Pierre Pierce, the Hawkeyes got their first lead of the night with a little under 10 minutes remaining in the first with a dramatic hook shot by center Jared Reiner.
But the seesaw battle continued in the opening half until freshman Mike Henderson made back-to-back lay-ups to go up by five. Horner followed with two more free throws, and Henderson and Brody Boyd added lay-ups to give the Hawkeyes their largest lead of half at 25-17.
The lead didn’t last long though as Purdue’s Matt Kiefer and McKnight had back-to-back steals and lay-ups and McKnight added a jumper to cut Iowa’s lead to three, closing the half at 28-25.
The second half opened with another 3-pointer by Lowe to give the Boilermakers a two-point advantage, but Pierce and Henderson teamed up with senior Sean Sonderleiter to close the door on Purdue.
“Sean was huge in the second half for us,” said Alford. “It was nice to see Sean doing some things for us he’s been doing for the last year and half. I thought this was by far his best game.”
Sonderleiter went 3-of-4 from the line for six points, while Henderson went 4-of-5 for eight in his first game back since an academic suspension.
“Mikey’s been distracted a lot with academic issues, and I think he did a very good job of really staying focused tonight,” said Alford. “He gave us a big lift. He can get by people and really concentrated defensively.”
It’s definitely a big win for a Big Ten season opener,” Henderson said. “We really needed it to get us going.
“It feels great (to be back). It was just a maturing process for me, coming from being so immature back home. I had to grow up a lot faster. It feels great to be back.”
Through the game, Iowa guarded the Boilermakers and forced them to take irresponsible shots from beyond the arc. Purdue went 6-of-26 on 3-pointers, which were nearly half of all of the shots the Boilermakers took.
“What are we doing?” Purdue coach Gene Keady asked rhetorically after the game. “We were doing those things tonight because we don’t know how to play right. It’s Big Ten time and you have to play smartly.
“The main thing was that Iowa just out-competed us,” Keady added. “They just out fought us; that’s the bottom line. We played like we were scared or not prepared or whatever.
“You have to hand it to Iowa, they just played better than we did.”
For Iowa, Pierce went just 3-of-10 from the field but scored 13-of-16 from the line to have a team-high 19 points, which beats his individual season high.
Reiner was Iowa’s next best with 14 points, six coming from free throws and Horner rose to double digits with 10 off of eight foul shots.
“I think the guys have really competed,” Alford said. “They might have taken it to another level tonight just because we got some success there. The difference was we made foul shots.
“The staple of what we’ve been about is still here,” Alford added. “We really guarded. We’ve got guys who lay it out, even when they’re frustrated they’re laying it out. It just helps.”
For the players, the win was a much-needed confidence booster after a 20-point defeat at Missouri last Saturday.
“We had a meeting after the Missouri game, and we just decided that we were going to play from here on out,” said Horner. “That’s really what we did tonight.
“I’m just glad we got a win tonight. Anytime you can beat a ranked team is awesome, but anytime you can win a Big Ten opener it’s even bigger.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com