The game that turned it around

BY KEVIN GLUECK | MARCH 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa men’s basketball team had a disappointing end to the 2013-14 season, falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, the team’s trip back to the Big Dance for the first time in eight years has Fran McCaffery and crew back in the national spotlight. It took a long time to get back to that stage, and it all started with an upset in McCaffery’s first season as head coach.

The Backstory

If you walk into Carver-Hawkeye Arena today, it looks a lot different from the way it did on March 5, 2011. There was no restrictive circle underneath the basket, there were separate 3-point lines for the men’s and women’s teams, and the Pep Band wore hockey jerseys instead of polo shirts.

On the final day of the regular season, No. 6 Purdue traveled to Iowa take on the lowly Hawkeyes, who had won only three out of their 17 games in conference that season. The Boilermakers had a chance to win a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That Saturday afternoon was also the final home game of senior Jarryd Cole’s career. Cole had had a difficult time at Iowa. The Kansas City, Mo., native was recruited by Steve Alford, who left for New Mexico in 2007 after failing to make the NCAA Tournament — something his teams had accomplished the previous two seasons.

Insert Todd Lickliter — the highly sought 2007 NCAA Coach of the Year from Butler who came in to pick up the pieces. Lickliter did anything but that — the Hawkeyes failed to finish over .500 in his three seasons. Interest in the basketball program was at an all-time low when he was replaced with program rebuilder Fran McCaffery.

Carver-Hawkeye barely reached half capacity at times. Empty seats were the rule for the rows near the court. Hawks Nest could barely fill the lower part of its designated section in the arena. There were plenty of open seats in press row — a testament to how little interest there was in a team that had not won a game in almost a month.

“We all know what we were getting ourselves into as far as building the program to where it was,” said then-junior transfer Bryce Cartwright. “We knew it was a process, so we came in with the mindset to come in and play hard.”

The Game

Purdue entered the game as the hottest team in the Big Ten, having won seven games in a row before its final road trip to Iowa City. The Matt Painter-led Boilermakers throttled Iowa in the teams’ previous meeting that season, 75-62.

“We had a bad taste in our mouth from the first time,” Cartwright said. “We had nothing to lose at the time, and they were No. 6 in the country.”

JaJuan Johnson was atop the Big Ten and scoring and led the Boilermakers into Iowa City.

Iowa countered Purdue’s loaded lineup with Cole, junior Matt Gatens, Cartwright, and two freshmen: Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe.

Cole had played extremely well in his last few games as a Hawkeye. He had shot nearly 70 percent from the field and had averaged 12 points per game — almost 5 more than his season average.

“Those last five games was just a stretch where I figured my college tenure was going to come to and end,” Cole said. “I got to give it all now, or I’m never going to have the opportunity any more.”

Purdue controlled much of the first half, shooting 46 percent from the floor, compared with just 38 percent for Iowa. Cole kept the Hawkeyes in the game, collecting 12 early points to keep Iowa within 3 at 33-30, and the game was tied at 36 at the half.

Iowa grabbed the lead for much of the second half, starting with a 12-6 run. After a Basabe dunk made it 44-40, Cartwright cramped up at around 18 minues left and sat out for 11 minutes.

Cartwright had played as well as he had all season, tallying 9 points and 6 assists in the first half alone.

The Hawkeyes committed only 2 turnovers through 15 minutes of the second half. D.J. Byrd of Purdue hit a 3-pointer with 4:42 left to regain the lead at 56-55.

“We just kept losing by 3. Three, 3. It was that close,” Cartwright said. “We were tired of losing close games.”

After Cole used a bank shot to regain the lead, Purdue rushed a shot and missed. Cole had an open shot on the other end that he missed, but it was followed by a thunderous put-back slam by Basabe, sending Carver into a frenzy.

After a Purdue miss, Iowa ran a play referred to as “up” with 46 seconds left in the game. Cartwright took the ball on a screen from Cole on the wing. The Compton, Calif., native drove and let a runner go from the free-throw line.

Time slowed down for a few seconds. The ball hit the back of the rim, and shot straight up, and fell into the basket as the shot clocked buzzed with 29.5 left.

“At that moment in time, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know if he should be doing that,’ ” Cole said and laughed. “To see the ball go in, it shows what kind of confidence Bryce had and we had as well.”

That shot all but sealed the game. A few Gatens free throws later, Iowa won its first game against a ranked opponent since Jan. 12, 2008. Students flooded the court after chanting “Jarryd Cole”, and the party was on after a 67-65 victory.

“The court-rush after the game, that was my first time experiencing something like that. Everyone chanting your name as the clock’s running down” Cole said. “That’s something you’ll never get again.”

The Legacy

“That team was the first I had been on that wasn’t looking to make spring-break plans,” Cole said. “I don’t think anyone thought the first game of the Big Ten Tournament would be our last game of the season.”

This year’s senior class of Marble, Basabe, and Zach McCabe all referred to the upset of Purdue as one of their favorite moments in a Hawkeye uniform in a previous interview with Daily Iowan TV.
“That was the greatest day of my life before [the birth of my daughter] happened,” Basabe said. “I told someone it was tied before, but they didn’t like that. You can’t imagine that feeling.”

This win came at the perfect time for a basketball program trying to get back on its feet. The team dropped its first-round game to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, but the excitement and optimism surrounding the program heading into the next season was something that had been missing for a long time.

“It’s kind of surprising how much I hear that the game did so much and ‘Jarryd you were part of the turnaround,’ ” Cole said. “It’s hard for me to hear that from the fans because I feel I didn’t do that much. I’m glad the fans see it that way and the players see it that way.”

Iowa went on to make two consecutive NIT appearances in the following seasons, finishing as a runner-up in 2013. There was only one more jump to make to return the program to where it had been.

The squad finally reached the NCAA Tournament this season for the first time since 2006. Although the team lost in the first round of the Big Dance, players such as Bryce Cartwright know how important their time in a Hawkeye uniform meant to the program.

“I talk to Coach Sherman Dillard and Coach Andrew Francis from time to time, and they show their gratitude,” Cartwright said. “They never let us forget how important we were to them. Now, we’re reaping the benefits.”

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