Iowa head coach Francis McCaffery slammed the scorer’s table in frustration as his son, sophomore guard Connor McCaffery, launched a fadeaway 3-pointer that fell short of the basket as the shot clock expired. On the far end of the sideline, IU head coach Archie Miller could barely contain his excitement and yelled for his team to quickly transition into offense.
Sophomore guard Rob Phinisee sprinted up the court before he dropped the ball off to freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who laid the ball in with ease.
The entire bench jumped to their feet in celebration as the Hoosiers stretched the lead to 17. Miller calmly reached for his water bottle, glancing up towards the scoreboard to watch the replay as a slight smile crossed his face.
The day before, Miller sat sulking at the podium, looking for an answer to the constant question: How can IU snap its four-game losing streak?
He said a lack of leadership and effort led to the Hoosiers’ downfall. Miller was searching for a leader, someone to help him rally the team. Yet when he looked across the locker room, he couldn’t find one.
“If you’re a leader and you care about the about the other guys on your team, what are you doing to help that guy come the right direction?” Miller asked on Wednesday. “We’re not focused in on one another. I think if there’s a trend for our team to catch another uptick, it’s to buy into some of the things that we have done well.”
That’s exactly what IU did when they upset No. 21 Iowa 89-77.
IU regained its identity as a defensive juggernaut, like how they started the season, as they played with heart for the first time in nearly a month. The Hoosiers chased after loose balls, closed out on 3-point shooters and helped on defense, shutting down everyone besides junior forward Luka Garza, who somehow had a quiet 38-point performance.
It’s easy to get frustrated when one player consistently beats you on the offensive side of the court, but IU showed mental toughness as it stuck to the game plan. Garza was going to score a lot of points no matter what IU did, so Miller made sure everyone understood that they could survive that. It’s when the Hawkeyes supplemental players have big nights that teams are in trouble.
“When Wieskamp gets 30 and he gets 30, that’s when it’s really hard,” Miller said. “I thought for the first 25 or 30 minutes in the game we did a good job of making that game really one guy’s kind of getting it done.”
For the first time since IU’s four-game skid began, the players were joking and smiling as they walked down the court.
IU desperately needed a culture change and got one in its most important wins to date. It wasn’t 12 guys playing for themselves. They were one cohesive unit playing for each other.
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