IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)—Iowa coach Steve Alford proved that nothing motivates a team more than old-fashioned discipline.
After a lackluster performance in an overtime loss at Northwestern earlier in the week, Alford kept four of his starters out of the opening lineup Saturday. The decision paid big dividends as the No. 23 Hawkeyes, led by 25 points from Pierre Pierce, coasted past Indiana 72-57.
“The benching occurred because I felt there had to be consequences when guys don’t perform the way they have to,” said Alford, who benched Pierce, Jeff Horner, Erek Hansen and Greg Brunner.
“I just needed to send a message and I think the guys responded in a very positive way,” he said.
Did they ever.
The Hawkeyes (15-5, 3-4 Big Ten) came out aggressive on defense, protected the ball and shot 65 percent from the free throw line—areas the team failed miserably in during the loss to the Wildcats.
Pierce made an immediate impact after taking the floor 2 1/2 minutes into the game when he snatched a loose ball, drove the length of the floor and hit the layup and ensuing free throw to give Iowa an early 9-7 lead.
Horner scored 16 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, and Brunner added 13 points and nine rebounds. Brunner’s basket at the 14:25 mark in the first half gave Iowa a lead it never relinquished in handing Indiana (9-9, 4-3) its second straight defeat.
“I think it gave them a wake-up call, a reminder of what they’re expected to do when they get out there,” said Carlton Reed, who benefited from Alford’s decision by making his first career start.
Freshman D.J. White led the Hoosiers for the second straight game, tying a career high with 23 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
But the Hoosiers again struggled with perimeter shooting, hitting just 38 percent from the field. The Big Ten’s worst 3-point shooting team coming in, the Hoosiers made just 3-of-14 from behind the arc, one game after a 2-of-19 effort in Wednesday’s 70-65 loss at Minnesota.
Bracey Wright also struggled offensively. The Big Ten’s leading scorer, averaging 19.1 points per game, had just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Indiana coach Mike Davis was at a loss to explain his team’s shooting woes.
“It’s a mystery. We’re just missing wide-open shots,” Davis said. “We didn’t play with enough enthusiasm tonight. We did a poor job of concentrating and paying attention to details.”
Iowa opened the game with a starting lineup consisting of two freshman, two reserves and starter Adam Haluska. The newcomers responded, playing up tempo and keeping the game close in the early minutes.
The Hawkeyes built a seven-point halftime lead then came out strong in the second, quickly stretching the lead to 14 points when Pierce hit a 15-foot jumper at the 15:55 mark.
Marshall Strickland brought the Hoosiers within seven when he scored on a nifty drive down the lane with 6:42 to go. But Horner followed with a long 3-pointer and the Hawkeyes never let the Hoosiers get any closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
The Hawkeyes’ aggressive defense frustrated Indiana most of the game. Iowa made 13 steals, including five from Pierce, blocked six shots and forced 16 turnovers.
“We put the Northwestern game away, and if we go out and play with the energy and effort we did tonight everything will be OK,” Pierce said.