WEST LAFAYETTE – The top two offensive teams in the country spent much of the first half locked in a defensive struggle.
Neither Iowa nor No. 2 Purdue put together a tour-de-force offensive performance in the first 20 minutes of its Big Ten season, but the Boilermakers lead at halftime in large part because of free throws: they've gone 16 of 21 at the line, while Iowa is 7 for 9. Iowa committed its seventh foul less than eight minutes into the game and it trails the Boilers 39-26 at halftime.
The good news for the Hawkeyes is they're hanging in against the second-ranked team in the country without their best player. Super sophomore Keegan Murray is still dealing with the ankle injury he suffered in his team's win over Virginia and is not playing tonight, depriving the Hawkeyes of a player who scores 24.6 points per game and grabs 8.9 rebounds per contest. Despite that loss, Iowa has not wilted in front of a raucous Mackey Arena crowd that, though it feels like it could explode at any moment, has had a relatively little for which to cheer. Iowa has made Purdue's life difficult on offense utilizing an even more aggressive version of the defense Florida State tried Tuesday: full court pressure with the occasional trap thrown in. The Hawkeyes don't have the same length as the Seminoles, but they have trapped more often and Purdue struggled to adjust in the early going.
Purdue is experiencing the type of night coach Matt Painter warned about Tuesday when discussing his team's flying offensive start to the season: one in which the ball doesn't go in for the Boilers. Painter wondered if his team was good enough in other areas to weather such a night and it seems as though we're going to find out. Purdue has made do with (mostly) tough defense and some very strong play from Mason Gillis, who is 1 for 1 from the field and 4 for 4 at the line for seven points. He and Ethan Morton, two of the players who have played lesser minutes so far this year, each made an impact in the first half, underscoring the Boilers' ridiculous depth. Still, Purdue is shooting just 42% from the field and 33% from the 3-point line overall and that's why this game is still within shouting distance.
It helps Purdue's cause that Iowa's pressure defense led to a flurry of early touch fouls that got the Boilermakers into the bonus early. But the Boilers are still turning the ball over far too much, a growing concern as the season wears on. The Hawkeyes haven't had a ton of extra possessions, however, because Purdue has controlled the glass, limiting Iowa to just four offensive rebounds and winning the overall rebounding battle 24-15, which has balanced out the turnover issue.
Purdue's defense has been somewhat spotty in the first half, though the Hawkeyes, the No. 1 scoring offense in the country at 94 points per game are shooting just 27% from the field. It's pretty clear the Hawkeyes really lean on Murray for scoring punch and without him their offense is just a little flat. They're 3 for 13 from 3-point range and outside of one nifty pick-and-roll set – Painter was extremely unhappy Purdue gave up a basket on that play – haven't gotten much to come easy in the halfcourt. It's been easily the ugliest offensive performance of the season for both teams.
At halftime, it's apparent the Boilermakers are the better team with Keegan Murray not available for Iowa. After taking some to adjust the Hawkeye pressure, Purdue is playing decent offense and that might be all it needs to win tonight. If the Boilermakers ever do find the offensive rhythm that has characterized most of their season so far, this matchup could turn into a runaway. Iowa's best shot is for Jordan Bohannon (0 for 1 from 3 so far), to start filling it up from deep.