When Thomas Bryant was called for a foul after 23 seconds Thursday night – an awful call, I still say – I had a sinking feeling that IU wasn't going to be able to hang with Iowa, even at home. If you said to me right then "hey Thomas, Yogi Ferrell's only going to make one field goal in the first half," I probably would have turned the TV off and gone to bed. The fact that the Hoosiers had a first-half lead at all with (probably) their two most important players having off nights was pretty insane, much less a sixteen-point lead after fourteen minutes.
At that point most fans were probably like me: hoping it would be another Ohio State, another Michigan. Another game where Indiana boatraces a Big Ten opponent and makes them look like a middle school JV team. Against the #4 team in the country that would have been a pretty big deal. But as sometimes happens, one thing led to another, Iowa took the lead, and Indiana actually had to work for their 85-78 win. It looks like less of a statement win with that scoreline than, say, a 94-78 win, but honestly in the long run it's probably a lot better for IU.
Bryant and Ferrell ended up with relatively good-looking stat lines. Thomas had ten points and seven rebounds, Yogi had fourteen points, and neither one missed a free throw. But Bryant was limited to 14 minutes (with four fouls, which came fast and furious) and Yogi Ferrell was mostly ineffective, making only two of his twelve field goal attempts. With the big man mostly contributing on the bench and Yogi's contributions coming mostly on the defensive end, other Hoosiers had to pick up the scoring slack. And they did. Ten from Max Bielfeldt. Nine from Nick Zeisloft. Thirteen points from Robert Johnson. Collin Hartman's block-to-three sequence was legendary. Hell, Harrison Niego hit a jumper. Indiana's bench outscored Iowa's 28-0, and without those contributions IU would not have been on the winning end.
It was an opportunity for some players to stretch a bit, and grow in a situation with very little room for error. These are all* guys who will need to answer the call at some point if Indiana's going to make a deep tournament run. Having to do it because two of the big guns didn't have it on the day wasn't ideal, but this is a moment that could prepare them for the biggest stage, if that should come to pass.
*Okay, maybe not Harrison Niego, but you never know. In the words of Kevin Garnett, anything is possible.
That applies in a way to the whole team, too. After watching that game, you can't really say that Iowa had a particularly down night. They didn't blow the doors off the place, certainly, but they weathered the early Hoosier onslaught, climbed back in the game, and took the lead for a good portion of the second half. Whether or not they were at their best, Iowa punched IU in the mouth after halftime. Some squads would fold after that. Hell, some might fold after Bryant's foul trouble alone. This one didn't. They handled it, they went on a run, and they closed the game out. Again – that's an experience that may end up helping down the road.
When you have a sixteen point lead, you typically want to keep it. But for Indiana last night, losing that lead might actually prepare them better for what's to come.