Before Indiana could get out of Iowa City with a win Wednesday night, it had to get past an Iowa team that wouldn't go away.
After winning its six December games by an average of 26.2 points, the Hoosiers had to overcome a barrage of late 3-point shots from Iowa's Justin Johnson and a gritty effort from the Hawkeyes to eventually escaped with a 79-76 win in Iowa City in both teams' Big Ten opener.
The 11th-ranked Hoosiers won in Iowa City for the first time since 2003 to improve to 12-1, while Iowa lost for the third time in four games to fall to 7-7.
The win didn't come easily against an Iowa team that had already lost home games to Wake Forest, Louisiana Monroe and Drake. But Indiana got a Big Ten freshman debut record 25 points from Eric Gordon, a 16-point, 15-rebpound effort from D.J. White, and an outstanding all-around game from Jamarcus Ellis to come away with the win.
Indiana needed everything it got from that trio to offset an amazing effort from Johnson. The Hawkeyes' small forward scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the final 1:55 - including six 3-pointers – to whittle a 13-point Hoosier lead to three. The last of those 3-pointers came on a 40-foot bank shot with :04.8 remaining that cut IU's lead to two.
But after Lance Stemler hit one of two free throws put the Hoosiers up three, D.J. White intercepted David Palmer's pass at halfcourt to keep Johnson from getting a chance to launch a potential game-tying shot.
"Give that kid credit – he was throwing them in," said IU Coach Kelvin Sampson.
The Big Ten's leader with 43 3-pointers entering the game, Johnson finished 8-of-13 from behind the 3-point arc to lead Iowa. Tony Freeman was the only other Hawkeye in double figures with 12, while Seth Gorney added seven points and 10 rebounds.
While Johnson made things interesting late, it was the play of Gordon and Ellis, in particular, that helped the Hoosiers overcome a four-point deficit early in the second half and go up by as many as 13 in the second half. Gordon went 7-of-12 from the floor to bring an end to a two-game shooting slump that saw him miss 20 of 25 shots. His 25 points, meanwhile, was the most ever scored by an IU freshman in his first Big Ten game, eclipsing the previous mark of 24 set by Steve Alford in 1984.
Ellis, meanwhile, finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals while also playing in his first ever Big Ten game. Ellis and Gordon led an IU backcourt that got only three minutes out of Armon Bassett due to an apparent ankle injury and just two points, 15 minutes, and five fouls from A.J. Ratliff in his return to the floor following academic and ankle issues.
"He's a tough kid," Sampson said of Ellis. "He doesn't back down from a lot of things, and he's a winner. That's a great attribute to have."
In a game that went back and forth throughout, Indiana seemingly wrestled control away from the Hawkeyes for good with a late 11-1 that turned a 59-56 lead into the 70-57 cushion. Gordon got things started with a pair of free throws, and White followed with back-to-back dunks to push the lead to nine. Jordan Crawford added a putback basket off his own miss and Gordon scored on a fastbreak lay-up to put the Hoosiers comfortably ahead.
That set the stage for Johnson's barrage of 3-pointers, which came from everywhere on the floor. He hit one from the left wing and then one from the right wing, and then added one from the corner while being fouled by Ratliff. He added three more in the game's final :21.1 to keep things interesting until the final horn sounded.
"We didn't play great, but we won," said Sampson.
Ultimately, that's the most important thing to come out of the game for the Hoosiers. Indiana knows its Big Ten title hopes rely on winning its home games and finding a way to win more often than not on the road, and Sampson's team found a way to do that Wednesday.
"You have to expect that (sort of effort from Iowa)," Sampson said. "They're at home, they have a good crowd and they're excited. They were throwing in 3s. Give (Iowa Coach) Todd (Lickliter) credit – they were ready to play and they competed. We're happy to get the win."
D. White 6-13 4-6 16, M. White 0-1 0-0 0, Bassett 0-1 0-0 0, Ellis 6-10 3-4 15, Gordon 7-12 9-11 25, Thomas 1-4 2-2 4, Crawford 4-7 3-5 12, Ratliff 1-3 0-0 2, Stemler 1-2 2-4 5. Totals 26-53 23-32 79.
Tate 3-3 2-5 8, Gorney 2-6 3-4 7, Freeman 3-14 4-8 12, Johnson 10-15 1-1 29, Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Palmer 0-0 0-0 0, Angle 2-7 0-0 5, Peterson 2-9 2-2 6, Looby 3-4 3-5 9. Totals 25-58 15-25 76.
3-Pointers: Indiana 4-13 (Gordon 2-5, Crawford 1-2, Stemler 1-2, Ratliff 0-2, Ellis 0-2), Iowa 11-27 (Johnson 8-13, Freeman 2-6, Angle 1-6, Peterson 0-2). Rebounds: Indiana 36 (D. White 15), Iowa 36 (Gorney 10). Assists: Indiana 13 (Ellis 7), Iowa 21 (Freeman 9). Blocks: Indiana 2 (Ellis, Crawford), Iowa 6 (Johnson 3). Turnovers: Indiana 11, Iowa 13. Steals: Indiana 9, Iowa 2. Officials: Ted Hillary, Jim Burr, Mike Sanzere. Halftime Score: Indiana 34, Iowa 34.
Hoosiers Hold on Late Against Iowa, 79-76
Peegs.com Top Stories
Haunted Hall of Hoops set for FridayIndiana will hold it's annual Haunted Hall of Hoops event this Friday.
OG on the pointYour best defender on the opposing team's point guard? Even if he's more than half a foot taller?
Hoosier Newsstand, Oct. 24Get the latest articles on Indiana basketball, football and other sports in today's edition of the Hoosier Newsstand.