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WHEW: Iowa slips past Mercer 66-61

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A little bit too close for comfort

AP

When Mercer’s Keke Calloway hit a truly absurd 3-point shot after Iowa turned the ball over early in the fourth quarter, things looked more than a little dicey for the Hawkeyes.

A No. 15 seed beating a No. 2 seed has never happened in the NCAA women’s tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams. But with 6:58 left in the game and the Bears up by four, it sure looked like the possibility was growing by the second.

But then Megan Gustafson happened. She hit two consecutive two-point shots — the second a three-point play — and Iowa had its mojo back. Calloway would hit another 3-pointer to briefly give Mercer the lead back, but the Hawkeyes were able to finish the game out and win 66-61. (STATS)

It gave Gustafson, who finished 14-of-16 from the field for 30 points, her first NCAA tournament win and the Hawkeyes moved into the second round for the first time since time since 2015.

Gustafson also hauled in 16 rebounds and now has the single-season Big Ten records in both boards and points scored. She didn’t miss a shot until the 4:52 mark of the fourth quarter.

Her tenacity and scoring helped keep Iowa afloat through some rough patches, ultimately culminating in those two late buckets to help the Hawkeyes hold off the upset-minded Bears. It’s so fun to watch her and I’m glad she’s going to get at least one more game.

There’s also this fun stat which is also pretty damn good:

Makenzie Meyer had 16 points for Iowa and shot 5-of-7 from behind the arc. They were the Hawkeyes only made 3-pointers on the day and the five triples (one came at the second quarter buzzer) are a career high for Meyer.

Iowa led by eight points at halftime, but the Bears quickly started to cut into the lead. Calloway, who was 1-of-11 from the field after the first 20 minutes, came alive in the second half, scoring 18 points on 15 shots over the final two quarters. She finished a rather bizarre 8-of-26 from the field, but things could have been much worse for the Hawkeyes if the co-SoCon player of the year had been hitting some of the those shots in the first half.

Iowa out-rebounded Mercer by 18 for the game, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. Mercer had 10 second-chance points and they were able to get quite a few offensive rebounds at critical junctures.

Mercer also finished the game with a +21 turnover margin (Iowa had 24) but only turned those into 18 points. I don’t think it’s exactly fair to say the Hawkeyes lucked out in this game because of how well Gustafson played, but it was certainly a reality check.

Iowa will need to play better in Sunday’s second-round matchup with either Drake or Missouri. Tip time for that game is still TBD.