Hawkeyes climb out of hole, bury Gophers by 21
IOWA CITY -- At one point Sunday afternoon, an avalanche of turnovers and gift-wrapped defensive breakdowns threatened to bury the game and season for Iowa's men's basketball team.
Down 16 points in the first seven minutes to border rival Minnesota, which had ousted the Hawkeyes in the final seconds two weeks ago, Iowa had two options: give up or fight back. Iowa (17-9, 6-7 Big Ten) chose the latter, and the result was its most impressive win of the season, a 72-51 smackdown at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I've been involved in comebacks like that," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "Rarely are you down 15 and win by 20."
The game also provided Minnesota (18-8, 6-7 Big Ten) with one of itss greatest collapses.
"I do not know if I have ever seen such a dramatic turnaround in such a short amount of time out of any team that I have coached," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "It is about as disappointing of a loss that I have had."
With a sellout crowd of 15,400 in tow, Iowa not only rallied against the Gophers, but retaliated. The Hawkeyes strapped a 2-3 zone that constricted the Gophers' offensive attack and led to a 13-0 spurt over four minutes, 47 seconds that put the team back in contention.
Iowa's defensive switch stifled the Gophers offensively. After leading 23-8, Minnesota didn't score on its next 10 possessions and produced six turnovers in that span.
"We knew at some point we would go zone," Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. "A little earlier than we wanted to, but sometimes you’ve got to make game changes like that. In this case it worked out and worked out well for us."
Iowa took advantage of the Gophers with Aaron White driving to the hoop. White scored once and was fouled on multiple possessions. He later dunked and scored nine points on Iowa's run.
Mike Gesell added two layups -- the second one on a goaltending call -- to bring Iowa within 23-21. After Minnesota took a 27-23 lead, Marble scored Iowa's next eight points, including a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers, to give Iowa its first lead. The Hawkeyes wouldn't relinquish it.
The rally hardly was unique for Iowa this year. In non-conference play, the Hawkeyes were down 23 points against Gardner-Webb to post its greatest comeback in school history. Iowa was down 14-2 to start against Minnesota then controlled the game until the final seconds. It's a narrative the players dislike.
"We’ve been in that position before," Iowa senior Eric May said. "We don’t want to be in that position, but it happens. We stayed confident, stayed positive. There’s a lot of game left at that point. We switched some things up and got it going."
Unlike other games where Iowa stumbled late in the second half, the Hawkeyes finished with a flourish. Minnesota scored on consecutive possessions to pull within 42-35 with 12:30 left. Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe produced the game's highlight reel play with a steal in front of the scorer's table, jumped to stay in bounds and tossed forward to May. May controlled the ball near the free-throw line and rocketed past Minnesota's Oto Osenieks for a dunk and a foul. May converted the ensuing free throw to push the Hawkeyes back up 10.
"It was all happening in motion," Basabe said. "I’d seen (May) … I took a photograph of him so I was anticipating him running with me. I just tiptoed the sideline and just threw it to him and went up to dunk.
"I hate it when people don’t throw me the ball quick and I can get dunks. I wanted to get him the ball quick and I knew that would energize us and it was also exciting when he dunked it on my man."
May, who scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 24 minutes, called Basabe's play "huge."
"I thought he was out of bounds," May said. "He caught it and dove into the scorer’s table and got the assist. That was big-time for him."
The win gave Iowa its first three-game Big Ten winning streak in six years. The comeback gives Iowa the confidence it can win and finish opponents in the crunch.
"We knew we could get back into the game," Marble said. "We knew this time we had to really close it out and finish it. That was the goal."