Gesell's team advances in Prime Time playoffs

BY CODY GOODWIN | JULY 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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The first halves of this year’s Prime Time League games haven’t always been Mike Gesell’s favorite.

“I don’t know what’s been wrong with my first halves,” he said. “I haven’t been able to buy a shot.”

The Iowa sophomore has routinely struggled to put the ball through the hoop during the first 20 minutes of games this summer. But in Sunday’s first-round playoff game, Gesell’s first half was just what his team needed in what ended as a 96-88 victory.

Gesell finished the first half with 17 points — the most on the floor — on 7-of-13 shooting, highlighted by a breakaway dunk at the 5:36 mark.

That dunk also broke a three-minute, 34-second dry spell in which his team and fellow Hawkeye Darius Stokes’ team scored 5 points between them. Gesell’s team took a 45-37 lead into halftime.

The second half was up and down for Gesell’s team, which saw its lead extend, shrink, and extend again. The one primary constant was Gesell, who poured in another 15 points in the second half. He finished 12-of-23 from the floor in total and added 5 points from the charity stripe.

Gesell’s 32 points led all scorers in Sunday’s later matchup. His ability to adjust more to a scoring-first role — contrary to his pass-first mentality that he’s more used to — has likely been the cause for some of Gesell’s first-half scoring issues.

“Mike Gesell is my kind of point guard, in that he wants to be a team-first guy, he wants to be a pass-first guy,” league Commissioner Randy Larson told *The Daily Iowan* in June. “But with the talent where it is, he needs to be a scorer, too … That’s hard for Mike to go against his instincts, to try to be a scorer for his team.”

Stokes’ team kept the game close in the second half, and nearly overtook Gesell’s team for the lead at times. Stokes scored 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting, with 8 coming in the final six minutes.

This was Stokes’ first appearance in Prime Time since the season’s first game. He has been nursing an ankle injury he sustained in that game.

“It was the playoffs, so I figured I should come out here and see what I could do,” Stokes said. “My ankle was still pretty sore … I’m just anxious to get back to work.”

Stokes’ did have some help from Kyle Schlaak and Matt Lassen, who poured in 19 and 17 points, respectively. Ryan Baker posted 14 points on a 7-of-9 shooting performance for Stokes’ team.

Stokes and Baker padded their box scores in the final five minutes — they combined for 15 points, mostly in succession, during that time — but the deficit was too much by then. Okey Ukah knocked down 16 points, and Clay Cook and Sam Elgin each scored 19 for Gesell’s team.

Ukah scored on a put-back just before the six-minute mark of the second half, extending his team’s lead to 85-71. After a turnover, Gesell added two free throws, and Cook hit another basket on their next possession to seal the victory.

The win pushes Gesell’s team into the Prime Time League semifinals and ends the summer season for Stokes’ team. In order to get through to the July 21 championship game, though, Gesell will have to guide his team through an extremely familiar opponent: good friend, Anthony Clemmons.

“Whenever we step on the floor, it’s a competition,” Gesell said, smiling. “We’re both competitive guys. We love to go at each other … You’ll definitely see us go at each other on Thursday.”

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