Sometimes Villains Do Win: Pierre Pierce, Hyeres-Toulon Beat Iowa in OT, 84-82

If only Iowa hoops had a Dudley Do-Right to save it from cartoonish villains like Snidely Piercelash. - hawk6894

A few thoughts on the most memorable Iowa hoops exhibition game in recent memory.

At BHGP, we have been known, from time to time, to take slight, er, liberties with reality. So far as we are aware, James Morris will not transform into a pandemic-spreading zombie menace later this season. (Then again, we also don't have a time machine, so who knows.) As a service to our readers (especially the more, um, gullible ones), we tag these stories with the "Batshit Insanity" label. This means (SPOILER WARNING) that they are works of fiction.

On occasion, the line between reality and BHGP fever dreams gets blurry, like when we discover that Rob Bruggeman really does collect Beanie Babies or Ricky Stanzi really does have a "Made in the U.S.A." tattoo across his back. Then there are days like yesterday, when the line between reality and BHGP fever dreams gets utterly annihilated and we're reminded that the old saw of "truth being stranger than fiction" is wholly inadequate. Truth is not just stranger than fiction; sometimes it has fiction locked up in an S&M dungeon in its basement.

Iowa headed to the oh-so-lovely, ridiculously picturesque south of France yesterday to see the stunning sights of Marseilles and play the final two exhibition games on their schedule. As had been the case in their previous exhibition games, they were taking on a professional team, Hyeres-Toulon. Unlike those previous professional teams, though, Hyeres-Toulon had a wholly unexpected surprise lurking on their roster:

Yes, Pierre Pierce. That Pierre Pierce. On Hyeres-Toulon. Playing against Iowa, the team he was dismissed from almost a decade ago under truly sordid circumstances.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

"Surreal" doesn't even begin to describe this situation. Maybe what happened was inevitable from the moment when the perverse cosmic screenwriter crafting this tale decided to throw Pierre Pierce, one of the most notorious and reviled figures in Iowa basketball history, into this yarn. If you're going to drop a bomb like that, it might as well explode in spectacular fashion, right? Pierce had played for H-T in the past (in December 2012, specifically), but he hadn't played there in months; of course he would make his return to that team for their exhibition game against Iowa. Of course Pierce would go 7/14 from the field and 4/7 from long range, scoring a game-high 19 points. And of course Pierce would not just play well against his former team, but he would hit the game-winning shot, to boot.

I say again: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

The fates are cruel. The whole story is so improbable, so implausible, so Hack Screenwriting 101, it's almost impossible to believe that it's true. The whole situation is like a direct-to-DVD sports movie -- or, rather, a Bizarro version of a direct-to-DVD sports movie, since the villain ends up winning in this story.

As for the game itself -- because, oh yeah, there actually was more going on than just the Pierre Pierce sideshow -- it seems like it was easily the most interesting game of Iowa's preseason tour so far... and certainly the most entertaining. It was a back-and-forth game from the tip; Iowa led after the first and third quarters, H-T led after the third, and the game was tied after the fourth quarter. It was also a game of runs, with Iowa using a 7-0 run to take a 50-49 lead after three quarters, H-T using a 13-2 lead to open up a 6-point lead (69-63) with 40 seconds to go, and Iowa closing with a jaw-dropping 8-2 run in those final 40 seconds to tie the game and send it to overtime.

While the game itself was a stunner in its own right, the closing sequence (as best we can reconstruct it from the tweets of @IowaHoops) elevated it to an entire new level of wackiness. Up 69-64 with 40 seconds remaining, H-T made just one free throw. Zach McCabe then drilled a three-pointer to cut the lead to 70-67 -- and followed that up by forcing a turnover on the inbounds pass. So it was Iowa ball, down 3, with 15 seconds left to play. Naturally, after a timeout, Iowa... turned the ball over. H-T again made just one free throw with 10 seconds remaining, clinging to a 71-67 lead. McCabe scored again for Iowa (this time on a putback), cutting the lead to 71-69. Iowa manages to force another turnover, giving them the ball -- but a 2-point deficit and just 0.8 seconds left to play. No problem:

One more time: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

Marble explains the play in the write-up for Hawkeye Sports:

After forcing a turnover with 0.8 seconds remaining in regulation after a Zach McCabe basket, Iowa had one final opportunity to even the score. Roy Devyn Marble lobbed a perfect in-bounds pass from the sidelines just above the rim, where Aaron White caught it and laid it in to send the game to overtime.

"I had multiple options on that inbounds pass," explained Marble. "I had Peter (Jok) going to the corner, I had Josh (Oglesby) at the top after a screen, and I saw Josh's man follow him so I was able to find Aaron (White) on the lob."

Details on the overtime period are sketchy (to put it kindly), but it seems that the game remained close, only for Pierce to (apparently) hit the game-winning shot at the end. And so there was no joy in Hawkville. Thus ended one of the crazier-sounding games in memory for Iowa hoops. A game overflowing with crazy, and yet a game also seen by... twenty people.

Shit, BHGP had more different people than that post comments in a mid-day open thread about the game. And the @IowaHoops twitter feed literally had thousands more people following the action vicariously through their sporadic Tweets.

The positive from this game is that Iowa was finally challenged by an opponent on this preseason tour, giving the players a chance to perform in tense, crunch-time situations and Fran an opportunity to see what combinations perform well under pressure. Ultimately, a game like this -- loss and all -- should be a useful learning tool for the coaches and the players. 30-point wins are fun for the box scores, but they don't necessarily do much to prepare a team for more competitive fixtures. A close game (like this one) can be much more revealing and provide a much better view of what areas Iowa needs to improve on. The fact that Iowa was able to get that experience in a situation where actual wins and losses are utterly meaningless seems like it could be useful down the road.

And speaking of areas Iowa needs to improve on... for one night, at least, outside shooting remained an Achilles heel for Iowa. Iowa shot just 6/25 from deep in the game, converting fewer than 25% of their chances from distance. That's not good. Josh Oglesby (2/8) and Peter Jok (1/7) were Iowa's main bricklayers in the game. As much as anything, outside shooting will probably determine Iowa's fate this season. A combined 3/15 outing (20%) from the two guys tabbed to rejuvenate Iowa's lackluster long-range shooting is disappointing, but overreacting to one game -- one exhibition game, no less -- would not be a wise response. Both Oglesby and Jok have had better (and, in Oglesby's case, much better) shooting performances on this tour, so it's certainly possible that this was just a particularly bad day at the office. Iowa also got outrebounded (51-49), had 20 turnovers (although they did manage to force 21 turnovers from H-T), and allowed H-T to convert 11/29 (38%) from long range. When Iowa won last year, they typically won by dominating on the glass and playing stingy defense against three-pointers. They failed to do either in yesterday's game, so the fact that they ate a loss as a result is not too surprising.

Roy Devyn Marble led the way for Iowa with a near-triple double: 18 points (on 7/18 shooting), 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, in a game-high 38 minutes. There was a balanced scoring effort behind Marble, with Basabe adding 15 points, Olaseni and McCabe scoring 11 apiece (and McCabe being Mr. Big Shot down the stretch), and Oglesby tallying 10 points. McCabe also had a game-high 10 rebounds, while Oglesby made up for his poor outside shooting somewhat by also handing out five assists.

But this game will be remembered for one thing and one thing only -- the totally unexpected, utterly baffling return of Pierre Pierce. In hindsight, maybe we should applaud the deranged cosmic storyteller who whipped up this tale -- without his handiwork, Iowa's preseason adventures in Europe would have been forgotten in a few weeks. Instead, we now have a story so wild, so unexpected, and so goddamn ridiculous that we won't soon forget it. And we also have a reminder that reality is sometimes not just stranger than fiction -- it's a whole lot stupider, too. I mean, how else do you explain Iowa losing on a buzzer-beater to Pierre freaking Pierce?!

Goddammit.

(H/T to hawk6894 for his assistance with the image up top -- ross)

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