#7 - The Billy Taylor Game
This game could probably be higher, but there are individual moments that jump the line. This entire game, as well as the lead up to it, was an experience for Iowa. Prior to the game, Iowa had their visit to Ohio State postponed due to flight issues for Iowa plus severe weather across Ohio. The next day, they learned that they would be without Fran McCaffery for the Minnesota game after he contracted COVID. That meant Billy Taylor, who had the Minnesota scout, would lead the charge from the sideline. Iowa also went with a lineup change for this game, moving Joe Toussaint to the bench in favor of Tony Perkins. It was not a move anyone seemed to want or need, but...yeah these guys are professionals and I sit on a couch in Denver.
The game saw a sputtering start for Iowa, falling down 7-0 immediately. They recovered briefly and led by 1 late before perhaps the weirdest play of Iowa’s season.
Gophers' Luke Loewe steals the inbounds at halfcourt and drains a banked 3 to end the first half pic.twitter.com/IrIqF8HykQ— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) February 6, 2022
I mean, huh? That happened this year too? Yeah, it did! I simultaneously want college basketball to change and be better, but only this kind of wild, zany stuff happens in this sport, so don’t change a thing!
Iowa entered their most important 20-minute stretch of the season to date coming off of that. I don’t think that’s an over-statement either - in real time, the season hinged on the second half of this game. Iowa didn’t have any great wins at this point in the season, but their only “bad” loss was Penn State, and that loss really didn’t do the damage it felt like it did when that happened live. But just look at that play. Like the Penn State game, this also felt like one of Those Games for Iowa, a must-win that just goes sideways from the start, the offense can’t get untracked, Loewe goes for a season high, and it crumbles.
And early in the second half, it felt like it was still heading in that direction. Loewe made two more 3s early in the second half - he finished with 19, his second-highest total for the year -and the Gophers led 47-42 with 16:48 left. That obviously isn’t a huge margin, and maybe this game was inevitable - the Gophers did finish as the 14-seed in a league that included Nebraska, who started league play 1-16. Still, this game felt off up to that point. Everything was off.
The score then stayed there for another 2 minutes before Iowa absolutely torched the Gophers. Minnesota scored just 12 points the rest of the way as Iowa did the Boa Constrictor move, completely squeezing the life out of the Gophers and turning a tight, nip-and-tuck game into a laugher.
You won’t find any clips of Billy Taylor’s coaching, but the game is notable for his direction on the sideline. Simply put, a loss here would’ve put Iowa temporarily on life support in terms of the tournament. Instead, this game turned the season and allowed it to grow into the behemoth it became for 6 weeks. Taylor tightened the rotation for the second half, playing just 7 players, and he closed with the ultra-long front line of Patrick McCaffery and both Murray’s. Minnesota ran into a barrage of arms as a result. Everything was contested. He was ultra-aggressive at the end of the first half, a move I appreciated even if it didn’t work out in Iowa’s favor and led to that goofy Loewe half-court heave. It’s the kind of move you have to make when there’s extra time at the end of a half instead of letting the clock expire.
At this point in the year, it felt like Ahron Ulis might take the wheel as Iowa’s back-up point guard over Toussaint, as Ulis scored 9 points, grabbed 5 boards, and had 2 assists along with 2 steals. He was fantastic in the second stanza with absolutely suffocating defense and his decision-making was good. Iowa also got a stellar 18 points and 7 rebounds from Patrick, one of his best games of the year. Of course, Keegan Murray was a stud, going for 24 and 15 with 3 assists, a steal, and 2 blocks thrown in for good measure.
The game flipped a season teetering on the edge and to that point, it was Iowa’s most important 20 minutes of the year.