IOWA CITY — Melsahn Basabe deservedly stood in front of cameras and microphones Sunday night, but the Iowa sophomore spoke less about his performance in a 78-66 win against Indiana and more about those around him.
Basabe touted Aaron White and Devyn Marble for their rebounding and Matt Gatens’ shooting performance. Basabe talked up walk-on Darius Stokes’ five minutes of action and the vital roles played by reserves Andrew Brommer and Devon Archie.
Basabe’s humility was real, as was his play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The 6-foot-7 native of Glen Cove, N.Y., played perhaps his best this season against the Hoosiers, and it was personal. Indiana (20-7, 8-7 Big Ten) ripped Iowa (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten) in the teams’ first meeting this year 103-89. The Hoosiers scored 58 points in the paint and center Cody Zeller missed only one of 12 shots.
Basabe never forgot that game, and he vowed to make a difference.
“Last time they kind of embarrassed us, and I kind of took that personal and a few other guys did,” Basabe said. “Cody Zeller was dunking all over us, and they had 20 offensive rebounds. That was just really embarrassing.
“We can say that it was the guards and everything but as a big man you’ve got to be honest, you’re supposed to hold the paint down, and I think (Sunday) that’s what we did. We just held the paint down, and we played with an attitude.”
Basabe scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 28 minutes. He made 4-of-5 from the floor and sank 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. But it was his five blocked shots that set the tone, especially his three in the first half.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Basabe’s shot blocking helped trigger Iowa’s offense and boost morale. It also showed Iowa had adjusted its defensive priorities from the first meeting with Indiana.
“I think you could look at that as the big difference in the game and in our team,” McCaffery said. “(Basabe) was a legitimate force inside at both ends of the floor.”
“Five blocks is definitely good and that’s something to be proud of because not a lot of people can call themselves shot blockers,” Basabe said. “Coach McCaffery has been really stressing that to me, and I need to affect the areas that I’m really good at and the scoring will come. That’s what happened (Sunday).
“It just changes the attitude of the team and energizes the crowd and it starts our fast break. It also sends a message that the other team doesn’t keep attacking when they know that I’m down there. So it develops a presence as well.
Basabe also got it done offensively. With an 18-17 lead, Basabe scored Iowa’s next five points in different ways. He hit a shot off the glass, he sank a free throw and he made a turnaround jumper. He was engaged and energized early, and that helped pace the Hawkeyes.
“I thought I came into the game and I got those blocks and I was able to run the floor and get tip dunk early and that just kind of set me up for the whole game,” Basabe said. “I had a good first half. I kind of labored a little bit in the second half but my other teammates, everybody else was playing so well that everything that was spread out so I didn’t have to dominate the game, so to speak.”
Indiana Coach Tom Crean said his team didn’t follow the scouting report on Basabe.
“He’s a very capable player, there’s no question about that,” Crean said. “He caught the ball too deep, which was a big of a problem. We let him get the ball and get turned the way he wants to get turned, and we can’t do that.”
Basabe’s defense against Zeller, a likely all-Big Ten pick, was stellar. Zeller scored 15 points and had 13 rebounds but he didn’t dominate the game as he did in the teams’ prior meeting when he put up 26.“I think we saw (Sunday) what he’s capable of,” McCaffery said of Basabe. “He’s going against a lottery pick, and he played pretty well.”