Coming into Saturday’s matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes, IU’s trusty shooter senior guard Jordan Hulls was shooting nearly 48 percent for the Hoosiers.
Yet it took until 6:16 left in the second half of IU’s 73-60 win against the Hawkeyes for Hulls to score a single point against Iowa this season.
Earlier this season on New Year’s Eve, the Bloomington native shot 0-of-10 from the floor in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and failed to make it to the foul line in his scoreless performance to open Big Ten play.
Saturday night, his scoring woes mirrored the struggles his teammates faced early on, shooting 28.6 percent as a team in the first half.
The Hawkeyes gave IU every opportunity they could to let the Hoosiers blow open the game in its opening minutes. Iowa racked up 10 turnovers in less than 10 minutes while starting the game shooting just 4-of-16 from the field, but the Hoosiers could not capitalize.
IU started the game shooting just 1-of-7, including four straight misses to open the game by sophomore forward Cody Zeller.
The Hoosiers continued to feed Zeller the ball in the post for much of the game, as he was able to draw several fouls inside and take advantage of the tight game being called. But even IU’s big man, who came in averaging nearly 77 percent from the free throw line, missed three of his first six attempts.
With 10:03 remaining in the first half, IU had managed just 13 points.
“I think we were noticing we weren’t really making any shots,” freshman Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell said. “We know we’re a good shooting team. We kept shooting them and hoped that one of them would go down.”
And for Iowa, the scoring troubles were even worse. The Hawkeyes scored just six points in the first 11 minutes. Whether it was at his players for struggling to find the bottom of the net or the refs for some questionable foul calls, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery seldom stopped yelling.
With 10:26 left, his intensity finally earned him a technical foul, but junior guard Victor Oladipo hit just 1-of-2 from the line.
The Hoosiers’ lone bright spot for the half came on the defensive end, forcing 13 Iowa turnovers in the first half while allowing just 14 points. Although IU wasn’t lighting it up on offense, it was the defense, Zeller said, that allowed their offense time to catch fire.
“It comes eventually,” Zeller said. “When we’re defending, they’re not scoring. We’re still in good shape. Obviously it looks better when we’re scoring, but we can win if it’s a low scoring game because our defense is playing well.”
Early in the second half, the Hawkeyes cut the IU lead to eight by making their first two buckets in less than a minute. But the single digit lead didn’t last for long.
Ferrell answered with a jumper and IU’s lead never dipped below 10 for the remainder of the game and hit as many as 17 points.
Ferrell’s jumper, though, was the only shot until the game’s final minute that IU would make outside of the paint the entire game.
Hulls and the Hoosiers continued to miss from behind the arc, missing their first 12 as a team. Zeller began to see the ball more and more inside, drawing a foul nearly every time down the court as the refs never shied away from their whistles.
This choppy start-and-stop game flow never allowed to IU to break the game wide open, but the Hawkeyes never managed to come back either. IU shot 19-of-25 from the free throw line in the second half as well as an improved 50 percent from the floor.
IU’s traditional shooters struggled Saturday night as Hulls and senior forward Christian Watford failed to hit a single shot from the field, shooting a combined 0-of-15 while combining for seven points, all from free throws.
But the Hoosiers were able to maintain their double-digit lead with the inside presence of Zeller and the improved ability of Ferrell to find lanes to the basket, players said after the game.
Zeller posted a game-high 22 points off a 7-of-9 shooting performance after his four straight misses to open the game. He also added 10 rebounds to cap off the 13th double-double of his career.
Ferrell scored a career-high 19 points in a performance IU Coach Tom Crean said was much improved from Tuesday’s loss to Minnesota.
In Minneapolis, Minn., Crean said that Ferrell was looking too much to draw the foul. Saturday night, he went to the bucket looking to score, and his shots fell in.
“Tonight he really focused on making the basket, and he did a much better job with that. He’s really a two-way player, and I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Crean said.