IOWA CITY — Indiana Coach Tom Crean spent the first two minutes of his post-game news conference praising the direction of Iowa’s men’s basketball program under Fran McCaffery.
Crean earned his first win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday after four straight losses. But Crean’s No. 5 Hoosiers, who had led the nation in scoring at 89.4 points per game, lacked its usual offensive prowess in a 69-65 win against the Hawkeyes. Crean credited Iowa’s crowd for the atmosphere, and the Hawkeyes for their performance in holding down the Hoosiers.
“I’ll say first thing, we know this is a huge win for us coming in here,” Crean said. “I haven’t seen a lot of teams in the Big Ten play a lot of different games, but I like watching Iowa play. They play so hard. They’re competitive. Coach McCaffery mixes line-ups, and he’s got a lot of versatility. He is an excellent coach.
“We just kept saying if we get a win in Carver, it’s going to be a big deal because not many people are coming in here and winning. I hope their fans keep it up, that was a great atmosphere. It was exciting to be in as an opponent. I know we had some Indiana fans, but it was a great atmosphere. I hope the fans continue to pour out like that all year long for them because that team deserves it because they are going to be really good.”
Iowa (11-3, 0-1 Big Ten) earned its first sellout this season and just the fourth under McCaffery. Iowa continues to rebuild from a slide that culminated in a 10-22 record in 2009-10 and averaged barely 5,000 fans in actual attendance per game that year. The listed paid attendance average was 9,550 that season.
This year Iowa averages 12,764 fans through 10 games, which already would rank as the best per-game attendance since 2004. Considering Iowa averaged nearly 2,700 more fans per Big Ten game (13,254) than in non-conference play (10,569) last year, the Hawkeyes have a chance to exceed 14,000 for the first time since 2001-02.
“I think we’ve showed that we’re worthy of getting a good home crowd because we can play with any of these teams, and they make a big impact on the game,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “We feed on their energy, and it helps both offensively and defensively for our team. This is a tough place to play and teams, they’re not going to want to come in here this year. We proved that last year that we could beat ranked teams here, and we’ll continue to do that.”
As I wrote Monday, Iowa won’t enjoy the effort without a win. But there were some positives for Iowa despite the loss.
1. The Hawkeyes can play disruptive defense. Indiana was held more than 20 points below its scoring average. The Hoosiers shot 40 percent from the floor, their worst this season. Even more impressive, the Hawkeyes held Indiana shooting guard Jordan Hulls to no points on 0-of-10 shooting. Hulls had averaged 56.3 percent from the field, including 54.5 percent from 3-point range.
“Obviously no moral victory, but you also have to understand the pace of the Big Ten is a lot different than what they’re putting up on their non-conference schedule, averaging almost 90 points a game,” White said. “You’re not going to see that in the Big Ten. Our defensive effort was pretty good for most of the game, to be honest with you.”
“We definitely played with the defensive intensity we needed especially for a team that has such a high-powered offense,” Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. “To hold them to 69 points is pretty good and uncharacteristic of them.”
2. Even when he doesn’t score, Marble makes plays. Marble obviously had a rough shooting day, missing 13 of 14 shots. But he was active at both ends of the floor, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing two assists with only one turnover. He also attacked Indiana’s defense, shooting 13 free throws and making 12.
“You can’t get down on yourself,” Marble said. “You’ve got to continue to keep playing. We still had chances to win the game despite the missed shots. We’ve just got to keep grinding. We’re not going to be down on ourselves about it.”
3. Iowa can match the intensity of its opponents. Iowa didn’t panic when Indiana mounted a 10-0, first-half run or when it trailed by 10 early in the second half. The effort was consistent and the toughness was apparent.
“I think that showed that we can hang with anybody in the nation,” Iowa center Adam Woodbury said. “They’re preseason No. 1 for a reason. They’re a really good team, and they’ve got a lot of weapons. We hung tough with them.”
The Hawkeyes also earned respect.
“This was truly one of those 15-round heavyweight fight games that the Big Ten is full of, where you can’t necessarily land the knockout punch,” Crean said. “You just want to make sure it doesn’t get landed on you. We ended up having one more point at the end.”
With about 45 seconds left in the game and Iowa down by three points, Iowa freshman Mike Gesell stole an inbound pass. McCaffery chose not to use a timeout.
“We just felt like scrambling, and I felt Dev was in a position to make a play,” McCaffery said.
Iowa’s Zach McCabe missed a 3-point attempt with 27.5 seconds left, and Iowa was forced to foul the rest of the way.
Melsahn Basabe’s ankles could be a problem. Basabe, a junior forward, suffered a first-half ankle injury and didn’t return. He injured the other ankle nine days earlier against Coppin State.
ESPN employed former Indiana player, assistant coach and interim coach Dan Dakich as its color commentator for the game. Dakich, now an Indianapolis radio host, can break down the game better than most and his basketball background in the Midwest is top-notch. Consider him a professional, and I enjoy listening to his analysis. Nobody has a greater wealth of knowledge than Dakich when it comes to the Hoosiers and … the other team.
Iowa next plays at No. 2 Michigan (13-0) at 11 a.m. Sunday (BTN). The Wolverines feature point guard Trey Burke, a preseason All-American candidate. Burke scored 22 points and dished 11 assists in the Wolverines’ win on Saturday against Central Michigan. Burke is third in Big Ten scoring at 17.8 points and leads in assists with 7.4.
Michigan averages 80 points a game, second behind Indiana in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have beaten Iowa three straight in Ann Arbor, all by at least 14 points. Sunday’s game is the teams’ only regular-season meeting this year.