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Indiana men’s basketball rallies late, beats Iowa 74-68

The Hoosiers narrowly knocked off the Hawkeyes at home on Tuesday.

Alex Paul

Of all the close games Indiana has played this season, this one is probably the strangest.

Indiana lost two starters, Xavier Johnson and Malik Reneau. The former left in the second half after an arm injury while the latter appeared to hurt his foot minutes into the matchup. Both left the game and their statuses are unknown at this time.

Iowa has been something of a white whale for Mike Woodson, who logged his first career win over Fran McCaffery tonight in Assembly Hall. He was complimentary of the Hawkeyes’ coaching and readiness to play after the game.

“Fran has kind of had his way with this ball club,” Woodson said. “They’re always well-coached and they get after you. But I thought we withstood it coming down the home stretch and made the plays to win the game.”

A lot of things came together for Indiana to pull the win out. Kel’el Ware was the best player on the floor throughout the matchup, Anthony Leal rose to the occasion and Gabe Cupps, just a freshman, hit the biggest shot of his career to this point.

Starting with Ware, he arrived in Bloomington from Oregon with knocks on his reputation as a player. His effort and motor were questioned in Eugene, leading to decreased minutes and eventually the transfer portal.

When he arrived, Woodson found much of the same. The first few weeks of Ware’s time with Indiana were “a nightmare,” Woodson said.

“A lot of Coach Woodson screaming from the very beginning when I got him,” he said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just tried to push him, along with our coaching staff.”

Ware eventually answered Woodson’s pleas with the effort, fighting through discomfort down the stretch to help seal the win. He converted eight of his 10 attempts from the field with a 6-11 clip from the charity stripe, including a few rim-punishing dunks.

Then there was Cupps, who had to step up late in Johnson’s absence. Spending 11 minutes on the floor with just a single rebound and two assists, he made his lone shot attempt of the night count.

He earned the Payton Sandfort assignment on an inbounds play with under two minutes to go in the game. Cupps was with him all the way, hand in his face, but Sandfort still made the circus shot to take a two point lead.

But here’s the thing about Cupps: He’s one of the first Hoosiers on the floor for pregame warmups. The north basket is his two hours before tip, getting in as many attempts from deep as he can.

So when the ball came his way on the left wing with a chance to take the lead, he didn’t hesitate. He was ready.

The shot gave Indiana a 1-point lead before an Iowa turnover and a foul led to some free throws from Trey Galloway, who knocked down the second. A pullup from Sandfort to reclaim the lead missed the mark before Indiana went for a dagger 3 on the other end.

It whiffed, but Ware was there waiting to slam it home.

Then there was Leal, who came in off the bench with fire in his hands. He went for a season-high 13 points, hitting three of his four attempts from the arc. Assembly Hall rose with him after each make, cheering on the hometown hero.

He was there at the close as well, hitting the two game-sealing free throws.

Asked about him after the game, Woodson showered the senior with praise. Never once has he complained about his lack of playing time. All he does is show up and support the team however he can. Tonight, it happened to be from deep and in the clutch.

“Where I come from in the NBA, you call that a true pro,” Woodson said. “And Anthony is the ultimate teammate, man, in terms of just hanging in there with me.”