Iowa men's hoops does just enough in Big Ten tournament first round victory

BY TORK MASON | MARCH 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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Mike Gesell stood under the basket and motioned for an “and-1” with under two minutes left in the game, and the officials gave it to him. Gesell sunk the following free throw to give the Hawkeyes a 67-56 lead over Northwestern.

It proved to be the final straw to put to rest a Wildcat comeback in the second half. Iowa won the game, 73-59, advancing to the second round of the Big Ten tournament for the second-straight year.

The Hawkeyes wasted little time reminding Northwestern why the teams’ previous two meetings resulted in convincing Iowa victories. The Black and Gold jumped out to a commanding 15-2 lead midway through the first half and looked poised to runaway with a victory.

But the Wildcats weren’t set down so easily on Thursday — they cut the deficit to just 50-43 with just over eight minutes remaining, before eventually falling.

“You knew they were going to come back,” McCaffery said. “Bill Carmody-coached teams are going to come back. They’re going to keep coming, they’re going to keep executing, and they’re going to keep making it hard for us. We had to fight to the very end.”

Northwestern did just enough to keep the game from getting out of hand before halftime, despite Iowa’s first-half dominance in shot efficiency and rebounding. The Black and Gold shot 46.7 percent from the floor and collected 23 rebounds — including 8 by junior Melsahn Basabe — while the Wildcats shot just 32 percent and pulled down just 13 boards.

The second half was a near-polar opposite.

The Hawkeyes came out of intermission and started cold from the floor. The Black and Gold scored 10 points in the first eight minutes of the half and shot just 28 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes. But they hit just enough shots to keep the Wildcats at bay, including back-to-back 3-pointers by Devyn Marble and Gesell.

“In some of our close losses this year, down the stretch, we just weren’t playing as confidently as we should,” Gesell said. “Even though each of us had missed a few shots, we shot it with confidence [late in the game], and that’s what you’ve got to do down the stretch.

“You’ve got to play to win; you can’t play not to lose.”

Iowa’s scoring was balanced across the board, with six players scoring 7 or more points. Marble led the way with 19 points and 6 rebounds for the Hawkeyes.

Gesell made his return to the starting lineup — his first appearance since Iowa’s Feb. 21 game at Nebraska — and picked up right where he left off before a foot injury sidelined him for four games.

The freshman posted 13 points and 3 assists in the first half, although he was noticeably limping and grimacing at times.

Gesell said it wasn’t easy sitting on the bench for the past several weeks, but it was rewarding to finally get back on the floor against the Wildcats.

“It’s tough having to sit out and watch the guy, but at the same time, I was just tryingto do what was best for the team,” Gesell said. “It felt great to be able to come in, play some minutes and make some contributions to the team.”

The win means Iowa will face the Big Ten Tournament’s No. 3 seed Michigan State tonight. It’s receiving a billing from many fans as the biggest Iowa basketball game in years, and senior captain Eric May said it’s good to see the fan base so invigorated.

“I’m glad people are getting excited about this — they should be, and I think we’re giving them reason to be,” May said. “[But] every game this season’s been a big game, especially in the Big Ten.”

Marble said tonight’s game is certainly important, and a victory may seal a bid to the NCAA Tournament. But that’s not the players’ focus, he said.

“We came here to win a championship,” Marble said. “That’s the goal, the task at hand. [Thursday was] just another chance, another opportunity to keep going toward that goal. [Thursday] was a steppingstone; we took care of business, and now it’s on to the next one.”

Daily Iowan reporter Tom Clos contributed to this story.

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