IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s seniors combined for 25 points, nine rebounds, six steals and six assists on Saturday as they finished their careers before a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a confidence-building 66-62 victory over Minnesota. Saturday’s contest was the last home game of the season.
Guard Brody Boyd scored 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 6-of-9 at the line, forward Glen Worley went 4-of-8 for nine points and senior walk-on Kurt Spurgeon logged six minutes, pulled down two boards and got one assist in the contest.
Pending a medical redshirt from the NCAA, it was also the final game inside Carver for senior center Jared Reiner, who has been sidelined with a stress fracture since Jan. 17.
“It was an emotional game,” Boyd said. “It was the last of my everything: the last time out of the tunnel, the last first and second half. But I fought through all of that. It’s all over with and I’ve had a great career. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Hawkeyes started with a 9-2 run and jumped out to an eight-point lead by 17:13 in the first half. However, the strong inside work of Minnesota’s Stan Gaines with three layups and three huge 3-pointers by 6-foot-8 forward Michael Bauer turned the eight-point advantage into a four-point deficit by the 10-minute mark.
In that run, Iowa was out-rebounded 8-4. But for the half, the Hawkeyes out-rebounded the Golden Gophers 19-13 and got seven second-chance points, while Minnesota couldn’t even manage one.
Star Iowa point guard Jeff Horner took control of the quickly slipping game during the Gopher run, and got the Hawkeye offense going with a long, wide-open 3 which levelled the score at 22 at the 8:50 mark.
Forwards Pierre Pierce, Greg Brunner and center Erek Hansen added layups and Boyd, Worley and Horner each had a 3-pointer in the 18-3 run, which pushed the Hawkeyes out to a 12-point lead, their largest of the half.
Wise to the inside play of Gaines, the Hawkeyes, without even the help of Hansen, managed three consecutive stops at the post in the run. In the first half, Iowa got 20 points in the paint, while Minnesota got 14.
According to Boyd, who had four steals in the game, Iowa took backup center Jeff Hagen out of the game.
“I think we took away a lot of post feeds that he had,” Boyd said, “and he had to start dribbling and dig down there. We got a bunch of steals and I think that took him out of his game.”
Hagen could only manage five points and five rebounds in 19 minutes.
The Gophers had to rely on 3-pointers by Bauer and Aaron Robinson to keep in the game, and closed the first half with a layup by Brent Lawson. Minnesota held a 39-30 halftime deficit.
After the break, the Hawkeyes came out of the gates with an 18-8 overall run and a stretch of 12-1 to carry themselves to a 19-point lead with 10 minutes to play.
“Really, the first 30 minutes of the game, I thought, we were playing at a high level, getting out to a 19-point lead,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “I’m really proud of the team because we knew this would be a hard-fought game. (Coach Dan Monson)’s kids are always well-prepared, and they always fight you extremely hard, and we knew that coming in.”
After the midway point of the second half though, there would be no style points for Iowa as the momentum shifted to Minnesota’s favor. The Gophers launched a 16-1 drive, being helped by the Hawkeyes’ 2-of-11 shooting at the free throw line.
“I thought with about three minutes to go, the momentum had obviously shifted to theirs and that’s the hardest thing to do in sports is regain, regroup and finish it,” Alford said. “I thought the guys did a good job in the last two minutes of getting stops when we needed to get stops.”
Minnesota cut Iowa’s lead down to four by 4:44 in the half, but couldn’t capitalize on the momentum shift. Even though the Hawkeyes only had one more offensive field goal, a layup by Glen Worley, in the game, the Gophers sent Boyd and Horner to the line eight times. The sophomore and senior nailed six shots to finish the game.
“Getting up 19 points, you can’t give away a lead like that, especially at home,” said Boyd. “We battled back and we got them at the end. A win’s a win in this league, no matter if it’s 19. We’ll take it, but we definitely have to build from it. It wasn’t a pretty win, so we have to build from it.”
“We just have to learn how to dictate the game for longer periods of time,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “We had both halves with (Iowa) dictating the game and having them be more aggressive. I felt we ended the game in the last seven minutes or so with us being the aggressors, especially at the defensive end.
“But it took us 30 minutes to control the bounce, and I thought the bounce really hurt us early,” Monson added. “We were in a zone a lot, but there were some critical rebounds that we didn’t get down the stretch.”
Bauer led the Gophers with 16 points and five rebounds. Adam Boone, whose shooting was critical in their second half comeback, got 14 points and Robinson ended up with 12.
Minnesota was without star freshman Kris Humphries, who leads the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding, averaging 22 points and 10 boards per game. An ankle injury diagnosed earlier this week sidelined the 6-8 Minnesota-native, and forced Monson to change his game plan.
“Quite a bit,” said Monson. “And yet, again, I thought the movement – we had 12 baskets with 11 assists at half. Even now, we had 17 assists on 22 baskets, so I thought our guys did a good job of changing up from what we’ve been doing a lot of the year. I thought Kris’ absence on the defensive end with rebounding the ball was probably the biggest as anything for us.”
The successful matchup on Saturday was important to keep the Hawkeyes’ hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth alive and well. A loss against the Golden Gophers, who are now last in the Big Ten with a 10-17 overall record and 2-13 league marks, would have signalled instant NIT for Iowa.
However, the win leaves the Hawkeyes (15-10, 8-6) alone in fourth place in the conference. It is predicted that the NCAA Selection Committee will take the top four finishers from the Big Ten to the big dance.
“I don’t think it changes anything other than the fact that we’re still alive,” Alford said. “If we had lost today, then there’s not a lot of hope outside of winning the Big Ten tournament. But getting eight wins, and now we get a chance next week. I don’t know about (current fifth-place holder) Purdue yet, so we’ll find out tomorrow whether we’re going to be in fourth place all by ourselves. I’ve said all along, I’d be shocked if the fourth place team in the Big Ten doesn’t get in.”
Alford and his players are confident that their remaining schedule, which includes Northwestern (March 3) and Purdue (March 6), will allow them to keep ahead of the pack and enter the tournament for the first time since the 2000-2001 season.
“We have a one-game lead, and the two teams that will be chasing us we’re going to be playing next week,” Alford said. “We control things from that standpoint, but we have to go out on the road and play.
“Since becoming depleted, our push has been getting to March where it can be fun and exciting. We’ve gotten to March now and it’s going to be fun and exciting because we’re in it. We’re in the mix. A month and a half ago, we’re 30 points and 17 rebounds less than what were when we beat Purdue on opening day, so that’s a lot for a team to handle, but they’ve handled it and they’ve gotten eight wins now.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com