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Gesell turns iceman at line

BY RYAN PROBASCO | MARCH 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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With just 42 seconds left Sunday, Iowa — losers of three straight — clung to a 76-74 lead over Purdue. And at that juncture, the Boilermakers had a decision to make.  They could either gamble on Iowa missing a free throw by fouling or play defense in hopes of getting a stop and a rebound.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter decided it was best for his team to foul, which put the game in the hands of Iowa point guard Mike Gesell.  

“We wouldn’t have done that if they gave it to Marble, one of their better free throw shooters,” Painter said. “But since they gave it to the worst free-throw shooter, I just didn’t like going to the shot clock, having the ball with 7 seconds left on the road.

“He had already missed one, and I was trying to extend the game. And so I was hoping he’d go one out of two, split them, or maybe miss both.”

It’s hard to blame Painter, considering Gesell’s struggles at the free-throw line this season. The sophomore — after converting 79.4 percent of his free throws last season — had hit just 64 percent of his shots from the charity stripe before Sunday’s win.

But even though the numbers favored Purdue in that spot, Gesell hit both free throws, which moved Iowa’s point total to 78 — a number Purdue did not reach.

“I’ve never had that happen before. They specifically fouled me because they thought I’d miss one,” Gesell said. “My whole career I’ve been a pretty good free-throw shooter. I’ve really been up and down this season, but I think it’s all a mental thing. I work on them all the time.

“At this point, you just have to step up there and knock them down with confidence. It really felt good to be able to do that [Sunday].”

Gesell noted that he felt disrespected by Painter’s strategy to intentionally foul him. After those first two makes, he went back to the line two more times, finishing 5-of-6 in the last minute and 8-of-11 overall.

“He’s going to miss some free throws. But if you keep fouling him, he’s going to put you away,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “He’s missed some this year, yes, but they’re isolated situations, typically. It’s not like he missed seven out of eight. You can expect him to make seven out of eight.”

Junior forward Aaron White, who is Iowa’s best free throw shooter at 82 percent, said Gesell is much better than his percentage from the line shows.

Because of that, Gesell should thank Painter for intentionally fouling him, considering it gave the sophomore an opportunity to convert in a tough situation and build confidence before Iowa starts its postseason run.

The immediate, obvious result of Gesell’s success in that spot is that it helped Iowa climb out of its longest losing streak since January 2013. But it could end up aiding Iowa even more — the Hawks will have to be sound from the line in the single-elimination formats they will soon face.

“To knock them down late — that gives a player confidence knowing the game was in the balance and you’re sealing it for us,” White said. “That will give him confidence down the stretch. He has to stop thinking about it. Just shoot it, and they’ll go in.”


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