By Pat Harty
The inability to play defense and to win on the road were probably the two biggest reasons why the Iowa men’s basketball team suffered a stunning decline last season.
But it’s fair to say that Iowa has corrected both of those flaws this season, the latest example being Thursday’s 77-72 victory over Indiana at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
The Hawkeyes used a pesky two-three zone defense to frustrate the Hoosiers on offense and the deadly 3-point shooting by junior point guard Jordan Bohannon in the final minutes to improve to 3-3 in Big Ten road games this season after winning just once on the road in the Big Ten last season.
Iowa also improved to 18-5 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten, while Indiana fell to 13-10 and 4-8 in the conference.
The 6-foot-1 Bohannon scored Iowa's final 11 points over the final 90 seconds of the game.
The victory moved Fran McCaffery ahead of Lute Olson into second place on Iowa's all-time wins list with 169 victories. McCaffery trails only Tom Davis, who compiled a 269 wins over 13 seasons from 1986-99.
"Any win in this league this year is huge, any win on the road in this league, historically, is hard to come by, especially here," McCaffery said. "They're coming off a big road win, and we're coming off a big win. We're thrilled with how we played and how we played together. It just makes the next one bigger."
Indiana had lost seven of its previous eight games, but its lone victory came at Michigan State last Saturday, 79-75 in overtime.
Iowa was clinging to a 66-63 lead when Bohannon made a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 27 seconds remaining. He followed that trey with another 3-pointer just seconds later that expanded Iowa’s lead to 72-65.
Indiana wouldn’t go away, though, as star freshman Romeo Langford made a 3-point basket that trimmed the deficit to 73-70 with 19.8 seconds remaining.
Bohannon then caught in the inbounds pass and drew a foul with 17.4 remaining. The Marion native made both free throws to push the lead to 75-70.
Bohannon then secured the victory by making two more free throws to give Iowa a 77-72 lead with 6.3 remaining..
Bohannon led Iowa in scoring with 25 points and he also made five 3-point baskets and dished out six assists.
Junior forward Tyler Cook scored 21 points, while freshman Joe Wieskamp finished with 13 points, including 12 in the first half on four 3-point baskets.
The Hawkeyes already have won four more games than they won all of last season and they still have eight conference games remaining, including Sunday’s matchup with Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Should Iowa defeat Northwestern, it will have doubled its win total from last season in conference play when it finished 4-14 and 14-19 overall.
The players are determined to prove that season was an outlier and they already have accomplished that, so now the challenge is to just climbing.
Iowa has put itself in position to make the NCAA Tournament after failing to do so in each of the past two seasons. It would be the program's fourth appearance in the Big Dance in nine seasons under McCaffery.
However, there still is nearly half of the 20-game conference schedule to play, so it's too early to assume anything.
Indiana had cut the lead to six points at 60-54 when Bohannon made an old-fashioned three-point play with 7:34 remaining in the second half.
Iowa prevailed despite sophomore center Luka Garza being mired in foul trouble throughout the game and despite junior guard Isaiah Moss being held scoreless for the second consecutive game.
Iowa scored the first six points in the game, but the Hoosiers countered with a 15-5 scoring run that was capped by Juwan Morgan’s dunk that gave Indiana a 15-11 lead with 14:32 left in the first half.
But then Iowa answered Indiana’s scoring run with a 20-5 scoring run that included a stretch in which Iowa scored 10 consecutive points.
The Hawkeyes were leading 31-20 when Indiana forward Justin Smith scored on a dunk. His dunk was the start of a 10-0 scoring run that cut Iowa’s lead to 31-29 with four minutes left before halftime.
But then Iowa answered with yet another scoring run, this time an 11-3 spurt that included back-to-back 3-point baskets by Bohannon within a 25-second period. His second trey expanded Iowa’s lead to 42-32 with 2:14 remaining in the first half.
Cook then slipped past his defender and made a dunk in the closing seconds of the first half that gave Iowa a 46-36 lead at the break.
Cook led Iowa with 13 points in the first half, and he also moved past both Chad Calabria and John Johnson into 28th on Iowa’s all-time scoring list in the first half.
Iowa led by double figures at halftime despite Garza spending the final 10:32 on the bench in the first after picking up two fouls.
Garza then picked up his third foul just seconds into the second half and went back to the bench. He eventually fouled out of the game after having scored just four points.
Garza had averaged 21 points per game over the past six games.
But even with him only scoring four points in Thursday's game, his team still found a way to win a Big Ten road game.