BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Iowa coach Fran McCaffery thought his team had a winning plan Saturday night.
The Hawkeyes played defense and shut down the Hoosiers' outside shooters. But they struggled to score and take care of the basketball.
A 14-turnover, 14-point first half doomed Iowa's hopes as the Hoosiers held on for a 73-60 victory.
"If I said to you, we come on the road, we're going to turn it over 14 times, get outrebounded and score 14 points in the first half, you'd think it was going to be a blowout," McCaffery said. "We were right there. So that shows you what this team is capable of."
For the moment, this loss is yet another blow to the Hawkeyes' tourney hopes.
Indiana coach Tom Crean was so impressed with Iowa's effort, he was already lobbying for the Hawkeyes (18-11, 7-9 Big Ten) for an at-large bid.
"If you're going to have the best league in the country, then certain teams should get an exclusion from the bubble and Iowa is one of them," Crean said. "No one wants to play them in March."
Including the Hoosiers, who needed 22 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks from Cody Zeller just to survive this game.
Iowa was led by Roy Devyn Marble, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half. Aaron White added 14 points and seven rebounds, while Eric May had 12 points and seven rebounds, but it wasn't quite enough to dig out of that first-half hole.
"I wouldn't call it a freeze out," McCaffery said. "I would call it a really good defensive effort by a terrific defensive team."
Zeller was not going to let himself or his team get pushed around on his home court. Wearing blood-spotted shorts, courtesy of a second-half cut to the chin, the 7-foot sophomore kept going to the basket, drawing fouls and willing the Hoosiers to a victory that kept them atop the Big Ten standings.
"I've watched a lot of games this year, and I'm telling you that nobody has the physicality used against him like Cody does," Crean said. "And you never see him change his expression. We had to take him out of the game when the bleeding wouldn't stop and he didn't change."
The Hoosiers needed all the muscle Zeller could provide on this rugged end to a tough week.
On Tuesday, Minnesota dominated Indiana inside and pulled an upset that will likely cost Indiana the No. 1 spot in next week's poll. No. 2 Gonzaga won twice this week.
On Saturday, the Hoosiers (25-4, 13-3) needed an even grittier performance when their shooters had a poor night.
Indiana shot just 38.9 percent from the field and didn't make a 3-pointer until the final minute.
So Zeller took matters into his own hands by continually going the ball to the basket.
The tactic did come with a price.
Zeller was knocked to the ground a couple of times in the opening minutes when he missed four shots in the lane and he went sprawling across the court twice in the first half when he dived at steals.
And with 8:48 left in the game, as Christian Watford walked to the free-throw line, the officials escorted Zeller to the bench because of the blood.
First, he tried to hide it. Then he tried to stop it with a towel before taking a seat at the end of the bench. Twenty-seven seconds later, the trainers patched up the bloody chin and Zeller went back into the game where he continued to play the leading role.
He didn't even give it a second thought as he drew another foul, made two free throws and scored on a dunk.
Freshman Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell finished with a season-high 19 points and five assists for Indiana. Victor Oladipo had 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals despite playing much of the second half in foul trouble.
It was enough to earn a 25th regular season win and keep the Hoosiers 1½ games ahead of No. 9 Michigan State and No. 17 Wisconsin as the regular season conference chase heads into the final week. The Spartans and Badgers both play Sunday.
For the Hawkeyes (18-11, 7-9), it was a tough night, too. McCaffery drew a technical foul in the first half and the Hawkeyes sent Indiana to the free-throw line 42 times.
The Hawkeyes played defense, shut down Indiana's outside shooters and played well enough in the second half to give Indiana a late scare.
All Indiana needed to take control was an early 10-2 spurt and a 6-0 run to close the half. That gave the Hoosiers a 26-14 halftime lead. Iowa cut the deficit to eight early in the second half. That's when things got rough.
Marble hopped straight to the Iowa locker room after appearing to hurt his ankle. He returned a few minutes later. Zeller got the cut a few minutes after that and May came up grimacing after Zeller was called for a foul in the final minutes. He never came out.
The Hoosiers used a 9-4 run to make it 43-27, extended the lead to 18, and didn't allow the Hawkeyes to get closer than 10 on a night that the outcome seemed easier than the score.
"They're a tough team," Zeller said. "They're going to fight you to the end."