The Iowa Hawkeyes stormed back from an early 16-point deficit and blew past the Minnesota Golden Gophers Sunday in a 72-51 romp before a packed house at Carver Hawkeye Arena. For the game's first seven minutes, it looked like Iowa's postseason dreams would die with a whimper, as the Minnesota front line dominated the glass and the Gopher guards rained death from above. With 13:00 to play in the first half, Iowa was listless, uninspired, and down 21-5.
At the 13:00 mark, Zach McCabe chucked a rainbow at the rim to beat the shot clock that miraculously fell in. From there, it was all Iowa. After a pair of Minnesota free throws, Iowa's starters returned to the game from a brief rest, and the trio of Roy Devyn Marble, Mike Gesell, and Aaron White scored Iowa's next 22 points. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes moved to a 2-3 zone on the defensive end, confusing the Gophers and eliminating Minnesota's once-frequent penetration into the paint. When Zach McCabe was the recipient of one of the dumbest fouls in the history of organized basketball during a last-second three-point attempt (not the kind of stupid play you'd expect from 14th-year junior forward Trevor Mbakwe) and made all three free throws, Iowa had changed that 21-5 deficit to a 34-29 halftime lead. When Iowa scored eight of the second half's first ten points, the rout was on. Iowa outscored Minnesota 67-30 over the game's final 33 minutes, besting their 15-point comeback against Gardner-Webb for the season's best recovery.
Iowa got 15 points and 4 rebounds each from Marble and White. Gessel added 11 points and 4 steals, and Eric May and Zach McCabe each pitched in 10 points off the bench. The Hawkeyes played even on the boards with Minnesota (29-29), forced 17 Gopher turnovers, and shot 48.8% from the field, 55.6% from behind the arc, and a blistering 80.9% from the free throw line. While Minnesota limited Iowa's ball movement -- the Hawkeyes had just nine assists, where they would normally have 14 on the number of shots they made -- the limited assists were less a function of stingy Gopher halfcourt defense and more a function of fast break layups, on repeat, for more than 3/4 of the game.
Much of that was a function of Eric May. While nobody is going to confuse May for Matt Gatens, today's performance was the Eric May version of those late February performances from Gatens in 2011. Playing 24 minutes off the bench and generally outsized in the paint, May led the team with 7 rebounds and ferociously attacked ball screens and passing lanes, disrupting Minnesota's offensive flow throughout. That he added 10 points on 3/5 shooting and a perfect 3/3 from the free throw line was just icing on the cake.
As for Minnesota, the Gophers look exhausted, and their bench is clearly their Achilles' heel. Rodney Williams left the game after an ineffective 10 minutes of play, Dre Hollins played only 19 minutes while suffering through a 1/8 shooting slump, and Minnesota's underbelly was exposed. The 82 minutes played by the Minnesota bench today was their highest total in Big Ten play (they played 79 in a blowout win over Northwestern, and otherwise had not contributed more than 61 minutes in any game). Their totals: 15 points, 13 rebounds, six turnovers. Sophomore center Elliott Eliason showed he was a serviceable backup, but otherwise the Gophers exhibited a complete lack of depth, a weakness pounced upon by the Iowa press and frontcourt trap defenses.
The win keeps Iowa on the outside edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble, and the Hawkeyes' RPI (currently in the mid-90s and not improving significantly without an upset of Indiana or a run in the Big Ten Tournament) makes their chances of seeing the postseason slim. But it was nice that, this one time, Iowa was able to run away from a really good basketball team rather than simply hang on for dear life against another massive comeback. This team needed to find a way to do that this season so that it would not be a problem next year, and this game shows they have that gear. It might not mean much more than NIT placement in 2012-13, but it could mean everything to 2013-14.