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Jake Kelly’s play nothing to sneeze at

BY SCOTT MILLER | MARCH 9, 2009 7:27 AM

Click here to view an exclusive photo slideshow from the game.

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It seemed like an abnormal point to call a time-out.

After all, the second half had just started, and Todd Lickliter’s game plan couldn’t have changed that much in 31 seconds of play.

But there Lickliter was — signaling to the referee that he needed a full time-out with 19:29 left in the contest and the Hawkeyes down just two.

It turns out there wasn’t any scheming or play drawing going on in the huddle. The time-out was simply to stall while sophomore Jake Kelly went into the tunnel under Carver-Hawkeye Arena and threw up in a trash can.

“I about did it on the court,” he said.

Lickliter knew immediately something wasn’t right with the Carmel, Ind., native.

“He was hurting, and I was a little scared because I thought if I called time-out and he left, he might not come back,” Lickliter said jokingly. “I made somebody go with him, and he came right back and he said, ‘Coach, I’m OK now.’ It sounded good to me.”

At the time, Kelly was playing average — scoring just six points in the first half — but no one in the crowd knew he was sick.

No one knew he woke up the morning of March 7 with a temperature of 101.1. No one knew he almost didn’t play because of a sinus infection. And certainly no one knew what kind of game Kelly had in store.

“I’m just glad he was able to play today because we really need him,” said senior Cyrus Tate, who added 15 points and 10 rebounds against the Nittany Lions.

The sophomore wound up playing the remaining 30 minutes of regulation and the two overtimes, scoring 16 points after halftime — including a banked-in 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining to seal the contest — and leading the Hawkeyes to a 75-67 win over Penn State.

“He actually told me this morning … he didn’t think he was going to be able to go,” freshman Matt Gatens said. “He got here, and I think he just realized [there’s] nothing you can lose — just go out there and play. He did a great job today.

“It was a gutsy performance by him.”

Kelly’s play was everything he has been in injured point guard Jeff Peterson’s five-game absence — clutch, tough, effective, and, to steal Gatens’ description, gusty.

“He had the option,” Lickliter said. “He did not have to play, but he is highly competitive and chose to play.”

He also had a career-high 11 assists. He found junior Devan Bawinkel in the corner to start the Hawkeyes’ 11-0 run to close out the second overtime.

“He hit some big shots, made some big passes,” Gatens said. “It was just huge by him.”

After the game, Kelly was tired — his voice was sore and spoke without inflection and his body looked as if it could use a good 12 hours in bed.

He stood in the hospitality room a few 100 feet away from where he threw up at the start of the second half, with a packet of Lemon-Lime Gatorades clutched at his side and microphones and digital recorders surrounding his face. He tried his best to explain what made a sophomore on a below .500 team want to fight through the aches, fever, and throwing up and play basketball.

Without really thinking, Kelly said, “I just tried to play hard, and I tried to win. … I mean, we needed this win.”


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