AMES — Hugs, three scribbles of Sharpie and a moment of silence.
Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly’s father, William Fennelly, died Wednesday morning before Iowa State hosted Iowa at Hilton Coliseum.
Before tipoff and after the final buzzer, each member of the Hawkeye coaching staff gave Fennelly a hug. Fennelly’s players honored their coach and his father by writing William’s initials on their shoes and the 10,196 fans in attendance had a moment of silence before the game.
“I want to thank coach (Lisa) Bluder and her staff,” Fennelly said. “Jan Jensen texted me today. Their players and staff were incredible to me before and after the game. That’s something I want to make sure everyone hears because this rivalry can get over the top at times. But they couldn’t have been more gracious in how they handled the situation.”
Bill’s son, Billy Fennelly, is an assistant for Iowa State. Steven Fennelly, another one of Bill’s sons, is an assistant at Northern Iowa and also made the trip to Ames to watch the game on Wednesday.
“I don’t want to take away from what Iowa did,” Bill Fennelly said. “They won the game and the story should be about the Iowa women’s basketball team and their effort tonight. I get that my family situation is involved and it was a hard day, obviously. We had so many people reach out to us.
“Our family — like a lot of families — is so connected. My name is the same as my dad’s. My son’s name is the same as my dad’s. My grandson’s name is the same as my dad’s. There’s a reason.”
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Fennelly expressed how hard Wednesday was for him and his family, but he also expressed how blessed he was.
“My dad was 86 years old and lived a phenomenal life,” Fennelly said. “I’m sure he’s yelling at me for not calling timeouts sooner and questioning why I subbed when I did — just like he usually does. For the first time in a long time, he has a little Kessler’s in front of him and I’m sure he’s sipping on it right now.
“I appreciate everyone, really. The biggest part for me was that my dad got to follow my career here. Jamie Pollard mentioned that to me the other day. My dad has been with me since the day I got this job and he didn’t miss much. I’m really lucky for that. I thank God that he got to see me and my family be at a place that we love so much and that he loved.”
Bluder found Deb Fennelly, Bill’s wife and expressed her condolences to her after the postgame press conference.
At the podium, the Iowa coach expressed her condolences publicly.
“Our sympathies go out to Bill and Billy,” Bluder said. “I can’t imagine coaching a game today, the same day they lost their father and grandfather. I know it’s a tough situation for them and we want to let them know our sympathies go out to them.”
On the court, Ashley Joens led the Cyclones with 26 points on 7-for-20 shooting from the field and 12-of-15 from the free-throw line. She also pulled down 12 rebounds — eight offensive.
“Go after the ball, rebound and hopefully get second-chance points,” Joens said. “I just had to keep playing and battling and go get the ball.”
As a team, the Cyclones shot just 32 percent from the field and 20 percent from 3-point range.
“Anytime you miss shots, you get into whether or not it’s a good shot or bad shot or good defense or not,” Bill Fennelly said. “I thought there were a couple of times we were underneath the basket shooting a layup and Iowa was all but ready to take the ball out of bounds but we missed the layup. Kristin (Scott) had six 3-point attempts and five of the six she was open. That’s the frustrating part about basketball.”
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Ines Nezerwa was the only other productive Cyclone. She scored 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
“This one was special,” Nezerwa said. “But we just have to be tough. We had a chance. We came back at the end of the third quarter — the game was tied. But we have to be tough and compete for the whole time.”
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