Fran-Graphs, Indiana

Fran18a_medium

Well that was the coolest thing to happen for Iowa basketball in Bloomington since this:

At the 7:52 mark in the second half, it felt like Iowa had lost this game.  The Hawks were down 58-48, Melsahn Basabe had just turned over an inbounds pass to give Indiana an easy lay-up, and the crowd was still buzzing from an amazing Will Sheehey dunk a few minutes earlier.  I was all set to write the following epitaph for the game: "Road victories are hard to come by in the Big Ten: you have to do everything perfect, and, as well as the Hawks played tonight, they did not play perfectly, and lost a winnable game."  Eight minutes later Iowa was celebrating an improbable 64-63 victory, the crowd was stunned, and Tom Crean looked like he was ready to vomit with rage.  What happened?  

The Iowa comeback:

  • Basabe makes layup, 58-50;
  • Eric May steals the ball, passes ahead to Bryce Cartwright, who makes a layup and is fouled, 58-52;
  • Cartwright misses the free throw, but Basabe muscles his way to an offensive rebound and is fouled; he makes two free throws, 58-54; 
  • Basabe steals the ball, passes ahead to May for a fast-break layup, 58-56;
  • Indiana, in full panic mode, calls time out at 6:19;
  • Iowa plays hounding defense and forces a desperation heave at the buzzer (I thought it was a shot clock violation, but the play by play has it as a missed shot).  Basabe scores off a nice Cartwright feed on the ensuing possession, 58-58;
  • Jordan Hulls makes a jumper, 60-58;
  • Jarryd Cole saves a possession with an offensive rebound, Basabe gets fouled on the ensuing possession and makes both free throws, 60-60;
  • Victor Oladipo makes a layup for Indiana, 62-60 (3:39 left);
  • Bryce Cartwright pulls a sweet baseline crossover and nails a step-back jumper, 62-62;
  • Oladipo is fouled and makes one of two free throws, 63-62 (1:42 left);
  • Cartwright drives in and makes a tough floater, 63-64 (1:29 left);
  • Verdell Jones III misses a jumpshot and Matt Gatens grabs the rebound (1 minute left);
  • Gatens misses a three-pointer from the wing (29 seconds left);
  • Indiana takes time off the clock, then begins to run a play, but they run it so aimlessly that Crean nearly has an apoplectic fit and calls timeout with 6 seconds left;
  • Jones misses a jumper, Oladipo grab the board and has a good look at the follow, but somehow misses, and time runs out.
It was all pretty stunning, and it started with defense.  Without those two steals and the easy points they led to, it's hard to see how Iowa could have come back.  May deserves a lot of credit for taking a calculated risk on the first steal that started it all (and Fran deserves credit for deploying some pressure there) and making a good throw-ahead to Cartwright.  Cartwright, in his turn, did a very savvy thing to convert the layup, pausing a split-second before going up and drawing a foul from Oladipo (who looked like he was in great position to block the shot).  Basabe caught Sheehey napping on the ensuing free throw attempt, grabbed quick inside position, got the offensive rebound, got fouled, and made two free throws.  With the ensuing Basabe steal and May layup, Iowa had shaved six points off the Indiana lead in just 28 seconds.  

And at that point, Indiana started to look a little scared, and Iowa looked like the aggressor.  The Hawks played with confidence and activity down the stretch on both offense and defense, forcing Indiana into tough jumpshots and then making tough shots of their own.  Bryce f***ing Cartwright, in particular, made two shots that were at least 8/10 on the difficulty scale.  I could try to describe them, but just go to the highlights (Cartwright's goodness starts at 2:22, but the whole clip is worth watching).  Cartwright has made tremendous strides as a passer this year, but the thing he does best is taking his man off the dribble and scoring, and he provided the crucial points in this game. 

There was, of course, quite a bit of game before the final eight minutes, and in spite of the 10 point lead Indiana had by then, we really did play well for most of the game.  Indiana amassed that lead in three ways: Jordan Hulls making jumper after jumper until we had the novel idea of doubling him, the refs allowing Indiana to elbow, poke, and prod us on every single offensive play, and Will Sheehey.  And his (admittedly impressive) dunk.  Take a minute and check it out.  That's some Hakim Warrick/Amare Stoudemire style power there.  I think Sheehey may have gotten a little too amped up by it, though, especially after he tried to dunk on Cole on the ensuing play and followed it up with some  significant smack talk/"King Kong ain't got nothin' on me"-style posing.

Right after that dunk, though, Assembly Hall went from loud to deafening, and the Hawks looked like they were toast.  Indiana was in great position at the eight minute mark to just slow down the game and run out the clock, but they lost their focus for just a minute, and that was all it took for Iowa to get back in the game.  The Hawks and Coach McCaffery deserve a ton of credit for keeping on fighting (and pressuring) the Hoosiers even when things looked bad, and the final eight minutes were about as poised and ruthless as this team has looked all year.  The Michigan State victory was nice, but the difficulty level of this win was several notches higher.  Here the Hawks were facing a hostile crowd, a desperate and feisty opponent, and refs who allowed that feistiness to border on professional wrestling, but they played like a veteran team, made shots like assassins, and pulled out a game they could have easily lost.  Kudos, and kudos again, sirs.  

Stray observations:
  • Indiana was playing without Christian Watford and Maurice Creek,  this was Verdell Jones' second game back after an injury and he looked off (he shot 1-9), so at times the Hoosiers were really struggling to find points.  Hulls was their offense for most of the game;
  • It happened before the comeback, so I didn't go into it, but early in the second half Cartwright served up two perfect long alley-oop lobs to May, who slammed them home quite expertly;
  • Devyn Marble made a couple of critical plays after Sheehey's dunk to keep the game from turning into a blowout: first he made a jumper, then he drew a foul.  After one of those plays, the color commentator for ESPN2, Stephen Bardo, made the following observation: "am I wrong, or did I just see some DNA come out of Devyn Marble there?"  Well, you had a better view of the action, Stephen, but, ewww...  (he was talking about Devyn playing like his dad, I hope and pray);
  • Gatens was very, very quiet this game.  Part of it was that he attracted a lot of attention and Indiana was guarding him very physically, but some of it was he was just deferring other people.  I used Cartwright and Basabe in the graph because today felt like a very "we are the future" kind of game for those two.  They took control and imposed their will on the game;
  • Poor Crean.  He really looks ill.  At one point late in the game he was even turning to the crowd and imploring them to make some noise, which struck me as an odd break in focus (and decorum -- do coaches do that usually?).
  • Speaking of Crean, after a lot of thought I think I've figured out who he looks like: Crean_medium 
  • One sour note down the stretch came with two minutes left.  The game was tied, Iowa had the ball, and we were coming out of a timeout, but Fran called some weird play that required Jarryd Cole to make a tough entry pass to Gatens on the block.  It was a tough pass, Gatens wasn't really open, and Cole probably should have just passed it back out to Cartwright, but why was Cole suddenly our playmaker there?
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