IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team gave No. 11-ranked Indiana all it could ask for in Wednesday night’s Big Ten opener before falling 79-76. With the victory, Indiana moves to 12-1 on the season and 1-0 in the Big Ten while Iowa fell to 7-7, 0-1.
Iowa’s Justin Johnson stole the show by scoring 29 points, including 19 points in the final 1-minute, 48-seconds of the game. Johnson made six three-point field goals in that span, including one four-point play and one successful half-court shot to help trim a 70-60 Indiana lead to 78-76 with three seconds remaining. Johnson made 10-of-15 field goals for the game and shot 8-of-13 from behind the arc. Johnson’s eight three-pointers are second all-time in school history.
Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson called Johnson’s six back-to-back three-pointers “Fourth of July fireworks.”
“What do you do against those shots?” Sampson said. “We were on him, but he shoots well with a hand in his face. He’s a good shooter.”
“You’ve got a guy making shots so you keep giving it to him,” said Iowa coach Todd Lickliter.
“I can shoot open or contested,” Johnson said. “We didn’t come up with the win so I don’t think the 3s mattered.”
Indiana was led by the duo of freshman Eric Gordon and senior D.J. White. Gordon scored 25 points including 9-of-11 free throws. White had a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
The Hoosiers came out firing in the first half with Gordon and White scoring the team’s first nine points in the first 1:30 of the game. Iowa’s Tony Freeman single-handedly kept the Hawkeyes in the game early, scoring 10 of Iowa’s first 12 points, including a four-point play. Freeman finished the game with 12 points and nine assists.
After Indiana grabbed a 9-4 lead, the Hawkeyes went on a 7-0 run to take the lead 12-9. Gordon and White helped gain the lead back for the Hoosiers but a three-point basket by Iowa’s J.R. Angle and an offensive put back from Johnson helped Iowa tie the game 17-17.
Indiana quickly went on a 9-0 scoring run the lead 26-17 before Iowa climbed back again using six points from Kurt Looby, including back-to-back dunks and a three-point basket from Johnson to regain the lead 34-32. Indiana’s Jamarcus Ellis hit a fade-away jumper from the top of the key at the buzzer to send the game to half time tied 34-34.
Iowa shot 52.2-percent and Indiana shot 51.9-percent for the half leading to two ties and seven lead changes.
After a quick Indiana bucket by Gordon and a dunk from Jordan Crawford, Iowa went on an 8-0 run to take its biggest lead 42-38 early in the second half. Indiana later answered with a 7-0 run of its own to take the lead back 47-44 behind strong play from Ellis who finished the game with 15 points.
Later in the half, White scored back-to-back dunks to help the Hoosiers match their largest lead of the night of nine at 65-56. With Iowa down 70-57 around the two-minute mark, Johnson began making his three-point baskets yet Indiana made just enough free-throws down the stretch to come away with a 79-76 victory.
“Let’s give Iowa credit,” Sampson said. “They played well and their kids played hard. From the 16-minute mark to the two-minute mark, we went from being down four to being up by 12 which was a plus 16-point swing. We’d like to focus on that.”
“We feel we can play like that every night,” Johnson said. “But we just need to get a victory.”
“We’re playing to win,” Lickliter said. “We did some good things tonight but we didn’t do enough. We have to stay away from low percentage plays but we’re making progress and we’re improving.”
Iowa’s next game is Saturday, Jan. 5 at Wisconsin.