Iowa’s Cully Payne rips the ball away from the reach of Indiana’s Verdell Jones. Iowa won its first Big Ten road game since the end of the 2007-08 season. (Chris Howell/AP)
Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake.
-Napoleon Bonaparte, whose mistake is appropriately immortalized as the name of Iowa's fifth-most populous city
Give Iowa credit: when Indiana was biffing at every aspect of play, the Hawkeyes dutifully stayed out of the Hoosiers' way.
We'd said earlier that this was Iowa's last, best chance at a road victory. Lo. and. be-goddamn-hold. It instead turned into Iowa's most lopsided Big Ten win since--no, we're not kidding--1 year and 363 days ago, when Iowa beat Penn State by a similar 15-point margin on January 26, 2008. The last BXI win by more than 15 points was the season prior, when Iowa took out PSU (again) by 16 points. Further, it was Iowa's best road game in the conference since 2005, when they beat--yes, you guessed it--Penn State by 18.
And yet, it was not at all a function of Iowa correcting their most destructive mistake: turnovers. Iowa committed 20 last night, which is a horrific, unconscionable number by itself. Combine that with the fact that there were only 58 possessions in the entire game, however, and you get the fact that Iowa actually recorded their highest turnover percentage of the entire season.
So how did Iowa end up winning this game with such an outrageous disregard for offensive discipline? Where Iowa
always never wins game: the offensive glass. The Hawkeyes--who, as you might recall, struggle on the offensive glass at a comical rate--gathered almost 60% of their misses last night. No, seriously--the Hawkeyes had 17 offensive rebounds, and Indiana had 12 defensive rebounds. That actually happened. It won't happen again, mind you; Iowa had never previously cracked 50% and only broke 40% against perennial powerhouses UTSA and North Carolina Central. But if you wanted to find a reason for Jarryd Cole and Aaron Fuller combining for 24 points on 17 shots from the field, their 10 combined offensive boards would be an awesome place to start.
All told, Iowa recorded 20(!!!) second-chance points thanks to their dominance of the glass. Indiana? Just seven. There's your game, basically. Well, that and Indiana's comical 0-9 performance from behind the arc.
And yet, statistical parsing aside, something's got to be said for Iowa's performance last night.
Sure, it might not have been objectively better than their loss to Michigan State, but they endured two trademark cold snaps and responded to both with runs of their own. For example, when Indiana had pushed the margin back to two points with 13:23 left, Fuller hit a free throw, then Brennan Cougill went absolutely bananas; in one four-possession stretch, he grabbed a defensive rebound, hit a three, drew a charge, then hit another three. The second shot was especially beautiful; Cougill took a pass from John Lickliter behind the arc, faked a pass, and found himself wide open. He took the "jumper"* in rhythm and put Iowa up by nine; after the ensuing two possessions, the Hawkeyes never led by less than eleven for the rest of the game. Sorry, SCJ, but that's exactly what you want out of a situational bench player.
Fuller's performance must be mentioned; he went 6-11 for 13 points and four rebounds, which seem like rather pedestrian numbers for the sophomore forward these days. But he was utterly mauled in the paint on a consistent basis, while rarely drawing a foul. Further, his makes regularly came outside of five feet, the usual result of good position, good footwork, and good finishing skill on his shots. Those were not 13 easy points, we assure you.
Aside from that, Cully Payne looked alternatively competent and maddening (and trending toward the latter), Matt Gatens struggled with his shot but hit them when they mattered, and Lickliter proved why he wouldn't see minutes on most D-I teams these days. We love Li'l John, as you'll well know by now, and the so-great-it-must-be-caloric irony is that there isn't a single less Lickliter-ish player on the roster (hoistin', hot-doggin', and heaving the ball out of bounds? Dad is not impressed, Junior) than John. But this is his second consecutive game with more turnovers than made shots, and he's only 2-15 from behind the arc in his last six BXI games. Hell, we can do that.
Really, though, the big story here is that Indiana played terribly last night. This isn't to take anything away from Iowa's performance--the most lopsided conference road win in the last five years absolutely must mean something substantial--but it was Indiana's worst-shooting night of the season and Iowa's best defensive EFG% performance of the season. We call these situations "outliers." And really, that's what it was. Iowa's defense was not uncharacteristically contentious, Indiana just biffed open shot after open shot, often within 12 feet. Iowa did too, of course, but the Hawks' forwards at least had the common courtesy to corral the missed shots. Indiana's had no such etiquette.
Interestingly, the most encouraging aspect of the entire game may have come even before the opening tip; it's when the announcers (who--though we don't remember their names--absolutely sucked dog balls during gameplay) mentioned that Todd Lickliter had said the team needs to go inside more for their own good. We've been saying it for weeks now; Eric May shouldn't be left to hoist 25-footers, and this team needs to punish over-aggressive shot defenders with mid-range jumpers instead of passing back outside the arc after beating a man off the dribble. We saw more of exactly that last night, as Iowa attempted 33 of their 48 shots from inside the arc. Mind you, this was usually an effect of their offensive rebounding, but that's not the full story; Cole and Fuller aside, both May and Payne had a renewed focus on putting the ball up off the dribble, and that diversification will lead to more open jumpers as the season wears on.
Okay, done nit-picking. Iowa just won. On the road. In the Big Ten. By double digits. This is a cause for celebration. Moreover, it means Iowa's 3-1 over their last four games, and the one loss was the nailbiter at Michigan State. Are the Hawkeyes "back?"Jesus Boxing-Out Christ, no. They still ought to lose at least seven of their last eight games. But in a season where progress has to measured incrementally and outside the W/L, this last stretch qualifies as significant progress--even if these inglorious bastards won't stop turning the goddamn ball over. Hey, you take your victories where and when you can get them.
*The term "jumper" belongs in quotes, since Cougill's vertical is officially measured as "NOPE."