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Kelly leads Hawks past Michigan in overtime thriller

BY CHARLIE KAUTZ | FEBRUARY 23, 2009 7:30 AM

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Iowa dressed for the Oscars in a game against Michigan featuring all the elements of an Academy Award winner on Sunday night.

There was red-carpet glitter when Iowa unveiled its new, stunningly gold jerseys before tip-off.

There was suspense in 16 lead changes and four crucial free throws at the end of regulation. There was even a save-the-day scene from the unlikeliest of characters in injured senior Cyrus Tate, who entered the game to an ovation with 9:31 remaining.

Finally, there was drama in Manny Harris’ last-second missed shot that sent the game into overtime, when the Hawkeyes used a 7-0 run to power past Michigan and earn just their fourth conference win, 70-60.

For 40 minutes, Iowa and leading man Jake Kelly — who recorded career-highs with 23 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists — acted as heroes in what has been a deflating Big Ten season.

But 10th-place Iowa, which has held a double-digit lead in just three conference contests this season, persevered in the late moments of a terrific basketball game to leave with a win.

“I’m proud of them, but I expect it,” said Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter, whose injury-plagued roster sent only seven players to the floor. “You only have so many opportunities and so many challenges … “Nobody ever said it was going to be smooth sailing …”

Nothing defined the performance like the final minute before overtime. Iowa erased a two-possession deficit when freshman Matt Gatens’ fourth-straight free throw tied the game with 25.5 seconds left and endured Harris’ NBA-range buzzer beater to survive regulation.

For all Kelly managed offensively, the sophomore guard’s defense on Michigan’s Harris during the final possession allowed Iowa to continue fighting for a 14th victory.

“[Harris] likes to drive right, and I was just kind of stepping on his right side there, not letting him go,” Kelly said. “He decided to pull up a deep shot, fading away, and I like my odds with that one.”

Playing the role of point guard for the second-straight game, with injured sophomore Jeff Peterson again in street clothes, Kelly’s 3-pointer with 2:54 left in overtime gave Iowa its seventh unanswered point and punctuated the win.

“Unbelievable,” said junior Devan Bawinkel, one of four Hawkeyes to play all 45 minutes. “… He’s a very talented player, and I think he’s capable of anything.”

Lickliter was quick to credit the 14,642 extras, Iowa’s second-largest home crowd of the season, for the effect they had on a tight game in crunch time.

“It’s really special to play in front of a crowd like that,” he said. “I think that it’s overrated, the hostile aspect of going on the road. But it’s the support and energy that the hometown gives.”

The energy was especially noteworthy considering Iowa needed 27 games to surpass Lickliter’s first-year win total of 13 on Sunday night. The win was especially rewarding for a team playing without four key players — now including junior Jermain Davis, who suffered a bruised knee in practice last week — and 33 percent of its regular-season scoring.

Iowa needed a disastrous overtime start from Michigan to finish the win. The Hawkeyes will need to recover quickly with road dates at Michigan State and Northwestern coming up.

On Sunday night, they didn’t need to act like winners. Iowa’s defiance during an imperfect season has earned the label, and the respect, of its peers.

“This team … don’t underrate them because they’re injured,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said. “They’ve got guys out there who know how to play, and Todd’s doing a great job with them.”


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