IOWA CITY, Iowa — Erek Hansen wasn’t expecting a career-high offensive performance Wednesday night, but he still knew he had it in him, despite a seven-game run of single-digit performances.
In the first triple overtime game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s 23-year history, the center scored a game-high 20 points — six better than his previous career high — to lead No. 23 Iowa to a 76-72 victory over Minnesota. The Hawkeyes are undefeated inside Carver this season.
“I wasn’t really expecting it, but all the guards were finding me when I was open, so I was able to hit my shots,” Hansen said. “They kept getting me the ball, so I kept making the shots.”
Hansen, who went 7 of 12 from the field and 6 of 6 at the line, also had a game-high five blocks, all while playing the final overtime with four fouls. For good measure, he played a career-high 38 minutes, too.
“I didn’t want to block shots (because of the fouls),” Hansen said. “I just wanted to be a big palm tree and stick my hands up in the air and make them shoot over me.”
The Golden Gophers (9-6, 0-4 Big Ten) had a hard time doing that. They shot just 35 percent from the field and 54 percent at the free-throw line for the game.
“We had to win this thing with our defense,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “I think there were three times in the game when we had to get stops within 15 seconds when they had the ball and a chance to win the game. That’s difficult.”
Iowa (14-4, 3-1) shot 1 of 20 (5 percent) from 3-point range and 39 percent from the field overall.
“The shot just would not drop for us tonight,” Alford said.
Iowa’s advantage came at the line, making 21 of 29 free throws compared to 13 for the Gophers. The Hawkeyes, led by Greg Brunner with 17 points and 23 boards, also outrebounded Minnesota, 53-51.
“You’ve got to make free throws,” Gopher coach Dan Monson said. “When you have chances on the road, and we had many, you’ve got to finish it. We’re a team that’s 0-4 that didn’t take it by the throat and grasp it when we had the opportunity.
“Iowa’s a veteran team and they did.”
Iowa got off to a 10-2 start and led the entire first half, despite a seven-point Minnesota run midway through that narrowed the Hawkeye lead to four.
The Gophers took a 32-27 halftime deficit and turned it into a four-point lead after scoring nine straight in the first 2 minutes 36 seconds of the second half. Adam Boone shot the go-ahead 3-pointer with 17:43 on the clock, the first time Minnesota had the lead in the game.
For their part, the Hawkeyes managed to score just once — on a Brunner dunk — in their first nine possessions of the half. Iowa’s woes were made worse when Hansen, whose eight points were critical in the first half, picked up three fouls in just more than 30 seconds and was forced to sit for more than 10 minutes.
“I thought Erek was tremendous. He played with four fouls for about an hour,” Alford joked. “I didn’t feel we could sub, and he did a phenomenal job. He changed an awful number of shots.”
Neither the Hawkeyes nor the Gophers could put each other away in a see-saw battle in the last five minutes of regulation and the game tied at 58 when Minnesota’s Vincent Grier missed a hurried 16-footer.
The motion sickness continued for two overtimes.
Grier missed another opportunity in the first period of extra time, leaving the game tied at 61. Brunner tried to make a steal and a near-half-court shot at the buzzer in the second, but that period tied at 67.
“It’s one of those situations where your adrenaline kicks in,” Brunner said. “The crowd did a good job of being loud and motivating us. These guys on this team did a good job of talking through the adversity that we went through.”
The Hawkeyes finally found some much needed offense at the start of the third overtime period, when they inverted a set originally designed to find Brunner in the post after a feed from Adam Haluska.
With 4:12 on the clock, Haluska came off a screen and made the final go-ahead layup, 69-67. A minute later they ran the same play again, drawing a foul by Grier. Haluska nailed two free throws. The Hawkeyes hit 7 of 10 at the line in the final three minutes.
“That third overtime we changed some things up and just gave them a different look,” said Haluska, who had 12 points. “We tried a little cross screen to change things up a bit and it worked.”
Maurice Hargrow led Minnesota, now on a four-game losing streak to open conference play, with 16 points. Grier scored 15 and had 10 rebounds.
Iowa has had little luck in triple overtime games. The Hawkeyes have played six since 1974 and won just two of them. Their last triple overtime victory came in Iowa City during a 112-111 decision over Purdue in 1974, less than a decade before Carver-Hawkeye opened. The last triple overtime game for Iowa was a 107-96 loss at Minnesota in March 1994.
But the story was Hansen, who just a month ago had no points and no rebounds against Drake.
“That kid played his heart out in all phases of the game,” Haluska said. “Offensively and defensively, he was our stopper. You can’t say enough about that effort. He won us the game tonight.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com