The Hoosiers couldn’t seem to pull away from the Hawkeyes.
After leading by as many as 14 points in the second half, IU found itself trailing with under four minutes left Tuesday night.
But the Hoosiers responded to every punch and whistle to beat Iowa 81-78 to win its second outright Big Ten title in the last four years.
“That’s one reason these guys are champions,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “They’ve responded to every experience and gotten better from it.”
Even when the Hoosiers were up two possessions with six seconds left, the game wasn’t over.
IU threw the inbounds pass out of bounds for its 13th turnover of the game. Then senior guard Anthony Clemmons air balled an open 3-pointer from the wing, but the ball landed in senior center Adam Woodbury’s arms. Iowa called a timeout with two seconds left.
Then Iowa’s best 3-point shooter, junior guard Peter Jok, was left wide open in the corner on the next inbounds play, but his game-tying attempt bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“We got another clean look at the three,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffrey said. “Pete did a good job getting open, did a good job finding him but it just didn’t go.”
The Hoosiers were leading by 20 points from senior guard Yogi Ferrell, including a step back 3-pointer with 37 seconds left to give the Hoosiers a five-point lead.
But Ferrell also committed five of IU’s 13 turnovers. He also had five of IU’s 13 assists.
The Hoosiers seemed to find themselves in foul trouble for most of the game. At one point in the first half, Ferrell and junior forwards Troy Williams and Collin Hartman all had two fouls.
Both Williams and Hartman ended the first half with three fouls before Hartman picked up his fourth two minutes into the second half.
In total, the foul discrepancy amounted to a 25-17 Iowa advantage, but many of the Iowa fouls came late as it was trying to extend the game by sending IU to the line.
This foul trouble meant a lot of minutes for IU’s freshmen. For a few minutes late in the first half, IU was playing all four of its freshman with senior guard Nick Zeisloft. The four freshmen combined to play 68 minutes Tuesday night.
Freshman center Thomas Bryant also had to sit crucial minutes in the second half as Iowa was storming back.
The Hoosiers still fought back with four of their five starters having to sit with foul trouble at some point.
That doesn’t include sophomore guards James Blackmon Jr. or Rob Johnson.
Blackmon Jr. has missed the entire conference season and Johnson has missed the last two games, both because of injuries.
So even though winning on the road against a ranked Big Ten opponent is difficult when you commit more turnovers and fouls, the Hoosiers won to give them a Big Ten title most thought was unattainable at many points this season.
But how Crean felt about his team never changed. Even after the 1-2 showing at the Maui Invitational, and when his team lost by 20 points shortly after at Duke, Crean never wavered.
“I probably don’t have all the words figured out yet,” Crean said. “I just know it’s an absolute honor to be with them every day. I love them as much now as I did in the Duke locker room.”
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