After missing the last two games with an injured ankle, 7-foot sophomore Kel’el Ware produced 23 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks to spark Indiana to a 74-68 Big Ten win over Iowa on Tuesday night in Bloomington, Ind.
The Hoosiers (13-8, 5-5) needed Ware to play 35 minutes in his return because top scorer Malik Reneau (16.7 ppg) left for good just 2:33 into the game after rolling his right ankle. Indiana also lost sixth-year point guard Xavier Johnson with 2:12 to play when he landed hard on his left arm after getting fouled on a violent dunk attempt.
In their stead, senior guard Anthony Leal contributed career highs of 13 points and seven rebounds and Mackenzie Mgbako added 11 points.
Payton Sandfort tied his career-high with 26 points and added eight rebounds as Iowa (12-9, 4-6) erased a 17-point first-half deficit, but couldn’t hold on to a two-point edge in the final two minutes. Tony Perkins scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half and Josh Dix finished with 10.
After failing to make any 3-pointers Saturday at Illinois, the Hoosiers got off to a blistering start as Mgbako drilled two 3-pointers in the first two minutes. When Ware dunked a missed Mgbako trey at the 15:38 mark, Indiana seized a 15-7 lead.
Less than five minutes later, Indiana embarked on a 12-0 spree to build a 31-15 margin. Ware opened the run with a dunk and a banked 3-pointer, then the lightly used Leal — who entered the night with two 3-pointers on the season — swished back-to-back treys.
Ware’s short bank with 1:27 left pushed Indiana’s lead to 39-22, but Iowa cut the margin to 39-28 by halftime.
Indiana pushed its lead to 44-32 on Johnson’s free throw with 17:04 to go, but then Iowa dug in defensively, and Sandfort and Perkins took over on offense. They scored 29 of Iowa’s 40 second-half points, but Dix’s 3-point play with 8:43 to go gave the Hawkeyes a 54-53 edge for their first lead since 3-2.
Sandfort swished a catch-and-shoot 20-footer from the corner with the shot clock running out to give Iowa a 68-66 lead with 1:43 left. But that would be the Hawkeyes’ last score as Gabe Cupps hit the go-ahead 3-pointer, Trey Galloway turned a steal into a free throw, and Ware threw down a second-chance dunk to claim the win.