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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 17, 2018 11:40 pm

Postgame observations: Indiana 84, Iowa 82

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

I spent a lot of words in my preview of this game singing Indiana's defensive praises. The Hoosiers came in leading the Big Ten in opponent field goal percentage in February, and the defense as a whole had taken massive strides recently.

Then Iowa made its first 11 shots.

Archie Miller talked repeatedly in the lead up to this game about Iowa's offensive prowess and the Hawkeyes made him look like a genius at the beginning of the game. The fact the Hoosiers kept their composure and continued to run good offense rather than panic when they fell behind is a huge testament to their improvement as a team in recent weeks.

Sometimes the other team just makes everything and that's what happened early in the game (and for most of the first half). Clearly, Indiana's defense could have been better, but it certainly wasn't horrible. Again, this was a game Indiana could easily have written off as a loss after the first 10 minutes and simply coasted the rest of the way. That's especially true considering Juwan Morgan, the one player who has been consistently excellent in nearly every game this season, had a rare off night.

Indiana is simply playing too hard lately to concede anything, though. That's what has been exciting to see from this team as the season has gone on. When they fell to 12-12 after consecutive close losses against elite teams, the NCAA tournament dream was pretty much officially gone. A lot of teams would have played out the string, but this team refocused and has played its best basketball of the season in the last two weeks.

A lot of the credit for that renewed intensity has to go to Miller, who has his team moving the ball and – today aside – has it playing defense at a high level in the scheme he wants. Another good portion of credit has to go to Morgan and Robert Johnson, the team's upperclassmen leaders. Johnson hasn't been as much of a fixture on offense as he was last year, but he still has the ability to score when it's absolutely necessary. It was necessary tonight and he answered in a big way. Indiana needed all of his school-record nine 3-pointers and career-high 29 points. As Miller said after the game, "We've been waiting for him to have a game like this."

Each victory in this four-game winning streak has been important for a different reason: beating Rutgers ended a four-game losing streak, routing Minnesota showed the Hoosiers were capable of defending at a high level in back-to-back games, dispatching Illinois showed they wouldn't get rattled when a big lead started to slip away and today's win was a comeback road victory over a red-hot shooting team. Those don't come around very often in the Big Ten, and Indiana picking one up at this point in the season means its peaking at the right time. With Nebraska next, the Hoosiers will get a chance to show its improvement against a team that isn't at the bottom of the Big Ten. At least the Cornhuskers probably won't make their first 11 shots in a row.