Bench play sparks Iowa men's basketball in win


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The crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena gasped in anticipation as Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe raced, alone, up the floor after corralling a long rebound midway through the first half of Iowa’s victory over Central Michigan.

The fans could sense what was coming, and Basabe didn’t disappoint them. The junior threw down a thunderous dunk that brought the crowd to its feet and moments later forced the Chippewas’ Kyle Randall out of bounds to get the ball back in Iowa’s hands.

That series capped a two-minute run in which the Glen Cove, N.Y. native snagged a pair of rebounds and blocked two shots in one possession — including one he swatted into the first row of sideline seats.

Basabe said he feels he’s a starting-caliber player, but he wants to give head coach Fran McCaffery what he’s looking for out of his second line players.

“Usually, coming off the bench, you want your bench players to be instant and be a spark,” Basabe said. “So I try to come in and do something right away that gets the team going.”

Basabe finished the game with 9 points and 4 blocks. While all of his swats came in the first half, he chipped in 5 points in the second half. Head coach Fran McCaffery said Basabe’s timing was on the mark in the final 20 minutes.

“He was terrific,” McCaffery said. “He made a couple big baskets. When we were struggling for a basket, two different situations, he made a big basket for us.”

Basabe wasn’t the only bench player who provided a lift at key spots in the game.

Point guard Anthony Clemmons got more playing time than McCaffery expected, because the freshman played well against the small Central Michigan lineup.

Clemmons logged 15 minutes in the second half and finished the game with 9 points and 4 assists. He hit an important 3-pointer in the waning moments of the first half to give the Hawkeyes a 29-26 lead going into the locker room, and freshman Mike Gesell said that shot gave the team a critical bit of momentum at a time when the team was struggling.

“Lots of people don’t really look at [Clemmons] as a shooter, and I know from watching him in practice that he can definitely shoot the ball,” Gesell said.

Clemmons came to Iowa with a reputation as a strong on-ball defender, but he said he said he felt those who only saw him as a defensive specialist underrated his offensive skills.

“A lot of people say I’m a good defender, which I am,” Clemmons said. “But I was a sleeper in my offensive ability. I just try to not take bad shots; just good shots that are in rhythm.”

Forward Eric May did a little of everything for Iowa as a bench contributor. The senior scored 4 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, tallied an assist, and added a pair of steals. He helped spark a 19-8 Hawkeye run in the second half with steals and effectively running fast breaks.

McCaffery said May is playing with a level of confidence not seen in some time. He said mistakes used to linger with May and that the senior placed too much pressure on himself.

“He doesn’t do that anymore,” McCaffery said. “He just goes down and does something good for you.”

Clemmons said the bench players fully embrace their roles and give the team what it needs when it needs it.

“I give credit to Coach Andrew Francis, because he always says we have to give a lift, and we always have to come out with energy,” Clemmons said. “So [me, Basabe, and May], we just came off the bench, and we try to give energy and lift our team back up.”

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