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Northern Iowa 67, Indiana 61: poor Hoosier defense and hot UNI shooting set the tone early.

Northern Iowa's three point shooters came alive last night and the Indiana defense was ill-prepared to respond.  The result was a big lead of UNI at halftime and ultimately a 67-61 win.  Here are the stats.  As I noted in my preview, UNI shoots nearly half of its shots from behind the arc, but had struggled this season, making only 29 percent.  That changed in the first half, when the Panthers made 8 of 16 three pointers and held a 13 point lead.  Part of it was simply better shooting by UNI--they hit some well-defended shots--but much of it could be accounted for by lackluster IU defense: lack of aggressiveness, poor communication on screens and switches, you name it.  To compound the matter, IU's best three point shooters did not get good looks.  Jordan Hulls, who is shooting 57 percent from behind the arc, was 0-2.  Matt Roth was 0-2.  Maurice Creek was 0-4, although in his current condition he probably cannot be considered one of IU's best three point shooters.  I don't mean to sound critical of Creek.  Clearly, he hasn't recovered from his injury.  I'm sure that we will see the guy who torched Kentucky last year at some point, but I've become increasingly concerned that we won't see him until November 2011.  Still, there's simply no excuse for not focusing on creating shots for Jordan Hulls through the offense.  He's not the sort of athlete who can create his own against quality opposition, and so it falls to the coaching staff to focus on that, especially against a team like UNI that relies so heavily on the three.

UNI fell to 1-7 from behind the arc in the second half, but ultimately, the damage was done.  IU came back to tie the game, thanks in large part to solid free throw shooting, but never led in the second half, and the offense stagnated again in the last couple of minutes. This game really was a failure of the backcourt.  IU's starting frontcourt, Derek Elston and Christian Watford, combined to shoot 15-22 from the field; the starting backcourt (Hulls, Creek, Verdell Jones III) combined to shoot 2-18.

Pomeroy's tempo free numbers aren't ready yet, but it would appear that this was about a 61 possession game, right up UNI's alley.  IU rebounded reasonably well, grabbing about 37 percent of its OR opportunities and holding UNI to 31 percent.  Turnovers, 14, were too high for the pace of the game, but certainly not the worst we have seen.  Ultimately, the game was won in the first half.  IU outscored UNI in the second half but it wasn't enough. 

Individual notes:

  • Elston scored a career high 19 points on 8-9 from the field, mostly before halftime.
  • Watford was strong again, and was crucial to IU's comeback: 23 points on 7-13 from the field and a typically excellent 8-10 from the line.  He also had 10 rebounds.
  • Verdell Jones III did not play well: 1-8 from the field, 5 turnovers.
  • Maurice Creek, as I noted above, simply isn't back yet.  I hope but don't expect that he will approach 100 percent this season.  He was 1-8 from the field, 0-4 from behind the arc, and did not shoot a free throw. 
  • Victor Oladipo had some nice moments off the bench, but mostly looked like a freshman.  He was 1-3 from the field, and both misses were plays where he went for the thundering dunk instead of the certain layup.  Lessons learned, I hope.

Well, there we are.  For me, this was the first gut punch of the season.  It was a disappointing evening.  IU plays Colorado, which lost to New Mexico in last night's second game, at 7:30 tonight.  I will post a preview sometime today.