IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)—It’s a good thing D.J. White kept Iowa’s Justin Johnson from catching the ball at halfcourt with the clock running out.
The way Johnson was shooting, no spot on the court was out of his range.
Freshman Eric Gordon scored 25 points in his Big Ten debut, White had 16 points and 15 rebounds and No. 11 Indiana held off a furious late rally by Johnson to beat Iowa 79-76 on Wednesday night in the conference opener for both teams.
Jamarcus Ellis added 15 points and Jordan Crawford had 12 for the Hoosiers (12-1), who won their eighth straight.
Even without two starters, the Hawkeyes (7-7) gave Indiana all it could handle. But the Hoosiers went on an 11-1 run late in the second half, then survived Johnson’s late barrage to snap a three-game losing streak at Iowa.
Johnson hit six 3s in the final 1:56, each one seemingly longer than the last, to bring Iowa within two with 4.8 seconds left.
“I actually thought we did a good job on him until the last two minutes. Then he went crazy,” Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson said of Johnson, Iowa’s top scoring threat.
Johnson hit three 3s in a span of 27 seconds to bring Iowa within striking distance, and followed those up with a 40-foot bank shot with 4.8 seconds to go that sent the few remaining fans in the building into a frenzy. Lance Stemler then missed the second of two free throws, and Iowa tried to get the ball to Johnson at the midcourt circle.
White saved the day, stealing the pass to seal the win.
“It was a relief that I got it out of his hands,” White said. “At that point you never knew what was going to happen, the way he was throwing up shots.”
Johnson, who was 8-of-13 from 3-point range, finished with 29 points.
Iowa had looked shaky at the tail end of non-conference play, losing six of nine, and was playing its first game without promising freshman forward Jarryd Cole. He is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee.
But Iowa always seems to get up for Big Ten games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The loss was just Iowa’s second to a conference opponent at home since the start of the 2005-06 season.
“We’re playing to win,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “I thought we did some good things. We didn’t do enough of them.”
Iowa took a four-point lead early in the second half, but Stemler followed a tip-in by Ellis with a 3 to give Indiana a 47-44 lead with 12:04 left.
Though things got close at the end, Hoosiers never trailed again.
Gordon extended Indiana’s lead to 59-51, driving past three Iowa defenders for a layup off the glass. Iowa got back within three, but White broke free for slams on consecutive possessions and Gordon followed with a layup to give Indiana a 67-56 lead with 4:56 left.
Gordon, as expected, was unfazed by his first road game in the Big Ten. He was 7-of-12 from the field and 9-of-11 from the free-throw line.
“This is my first big time road win. I’m used to watching it on TV,” Gordon said. “I just have to get used to it.”
Tony Freeman added 12 points for Iowa, which lost freshman starter Jake Kelly to an ankle injury early in the first half. Lickliter said that Kelly’s initial prognosis is a high ankle sprain.
Freeman scored 10 points in the opening 4:25 to give Iowa an early lead. Indiana responded, jumping ahead by as much as 26-17, but Kurt Looby highlighted a 14-4 Iowa run with dunks on two straight possessions to put the Hawkeyes ahead 31-30.
Ellis hit an off-balance jumper as time expired in the first half, tying the game at 34.
“We are progressing and improving. I have been saying all along that we have great focus, great guys and good teammates,” Lickliter said.
A.J Ratliff, who was academically ineligible for Indiana’s first 12 games, scored two points in 15 minutes. Indiana starting guard Armon Bassett left the game early in the first half because of bone chips in his ankle. The plan, Sampson said, is to give Bassett some rest in hopes the injury improves.
The Hoosiers might be one of the favorites in the Big Ten, but they’re relying on youngsters in the backcourt. Crawford, like Gordon, is a true freshman, and Ellis is in his first year at Indiana after transferring from junior college.
Sampson thought their inexperience showed down the stretch.
“(Lickliter) did a great job getting his team ready to play. Let’s give Iowa credit here,” Sampson said. “That’s something we have to be prepared for. I think this experience will help us for the next game.”