IOWA CITY, Iowa — With a 12-point lead and 3:11 to play against Indiana on Saturday, Head Coach Steve Alford recalled what happened just 72 hours prior in Evanston, IL, when at the exact same point his team gave up the lead and lost, 75-74, in overtime to Northwestern.
The Hawkeyes (No. 23 AP; No. 24 ESPN/USA Today) didn’t give up their lead inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena against the Hoosiers, though, and pushed out to a 72-57 win.
“To be able to respond in a positive way was very good for this team,” the coach said. “We’re going to need some momentum and confidence because we have an outstanding team coming in here next Saturday.”
Pierre Pierce, the game’s highest scorer with 25 points and five steals, agreed with his coach.
“Instead of turning it into hell we turned it into a positive,” the junior said. “We executed down the stretch and made our free throws and didn’t turn the ball over. We did a lot better.”
The guard is the conference’s leading stealer with a 2.32 steal-per-game average.
Pierce also shut down Indiana’s leading scorer, Bracey Wright, who was kept to two first-half points and 10 for the game. Wright, who is the conference’s leading scorer with 19 points a game, fouled out with a 1:24 to play.
D.J. Wright led the Hoosiers with 23 points and seven rebounds, but nothing was falling for them. Iowa held Indiana (9-9, 4-3 Big Ten) to 20-of-52 from the field for the night, while the Hawkeyes (15-5, 3-4) shot 61 percent from the field in the first and 58 percent for the game.
“That basketball team is a lot better than 3-4,” Indiana Coach Mike Davis said. “With back to back road games, we didn’t play with intensity.”
On the opposite side of a lack of intensity, junior Jeff Horner responded to being benched at the start of the game by shooting 6-of-9 from the field for 16 points with nine assists and four 3-pointers.
“It was good to see Jeff have a bust out,” Alford said. “He’s the typical Hawk, and you just want to play perfectly and that’s what we appreciate about Jeff. I’m proud and pleased for him because nobody wants to do any better than he does.”
In the first half, Alford benched his starters in response to the loss at Northwestern, but Pierce came out and fired a layup that helped the Hawkeyes get their first lead of the game.
Greg Brunner and Horner scored eight-straight points in the first half along with starter Adam Haluska in a 13-2 run that ended midway through the period and got the Hawkeyes out to a 10-point lead, which was the biggest of the half.
Iowa took a 14-point lead after scoring seven straight in the second half, but Indiana responded with an 8-2 run that cut the Hawkeye lead to eight with six minutes left.
Horner came back and nailed a long 3 with just less than four minutes left to regain the 14-point advantage and Iowa had control the rest of the way.
“We decided to come out and respond tonight,” Horner said. “I had some good open looks, and you have to give my teammates credit because they found me when I was open. Luckily they went down.
“We came out and got a win and that’s what we needed.”
Alford called the game a “bounce back” from the loss at Northwestern, and he said the team learned the lessons it needed.
“I just thought all three of the captains were careless in the Northwestern game and that cost them,” Alford said. “We’re up 12 with three minutes to go, and that’s when your leaders have to take care of the game and make the plays and the game’s over. Today all three of them did that.
“It’s a tough lesson to learn, but you can’t let your guard down in this league,” Alford added. “You have to play a 40-minute game and we learned that Wednesday.”
Pierce once again agreed with his coach.
“The last five minutes of the game, we really stepped it up and we separated ourselves from them,” the guard said. “We made a mistake on Wednesday, and we’re not going to let that happen again.”The Hawkeyes will have another week to think about some lessons, however, as they will play host to nationally-ranked Michigan State next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Indiana will host Penn State at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
“Win or lose (against No. 1 Illinois on Tuesday), they’re coming in here a top-10 team,” Alford said. “If they win they’re a top 10 team, and if they lose they’re a top 15 team. We’re going to need everything we’ve got to get this back on track, 4-4.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com