Iowa's run through the 2015-16 season, and collapse at the end of that season, has been driven in large part by a quartet of seniors. And so it is fitting that, in arguably the biggest game their team has played together, it was those four seniors that determined the outcome. It was senior forward Jarrod Uthoff who led the Hawkeyes in scoring and spotted Iowa an early lead that it desperately needed. It was senior guard Mike Gesell whose second foul nine minutes into the game set off a swoon that gave back the early lead. It was senior guard Anthony Clemmons who committed an inexplicable foul in the closing seconds of regulation, allowing Temple to nullify a three-point lead from the free throw line and send the game to overtime. And it was Adam Woodbury, the much-maligned senior center, who put back a wayward Gesell shot in the last second of that overtime to give the Hawkeyes a 72-70 win and send Iowa to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
The game itself was a fairly accurate summation of Iowa's season. The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 12-point lead in the game's first ten minutes, but Iowa's starters left the game and the bench drought continued. Over the next five minutes, the Hawkeyes managed just one basket and gave back their advantage. Iowa led by one at the half, but an opportunity for an early knockout was lost.
Iowa again extended its lead to double-digits early in the second half, and again slowly gave the lead back on poor shooting. The Hawkeyes did not commit a turnover in the first 37 minutes of the game, and nearly set the record for fewest turnovers in an NCAA Tournament game, but shot just 35 percent from the field. After opening the game by making six of their first nine three-point shot attempts, the Hawkeyes managed to make just one of the next 19 over the rest of the game.
Nevertheless, a Peter Jok free throw gave Iowa a four-point lead with 18 seconds left, and the second round was within Iowa's grasp. And that was where the other part of the 2015-16 microcosm made its appearance: The collapse. Iowa conceded a layup to Quenton DeCosey with 13 seconds left, and though Jok made just one of two free throws after the subsequent foul, Temple would be forced into a desperation three-point attempt. Or so we thought: Anthony Clemmons was called for a foul on DeCosey's attempt, DeCosey made all three shots, and Iowa had blown yet another lead.
It would be safe to say at this point that Iowa was going to lose. Fran McCaffery's record in close games is atrocious -- his Iowa teams were just 11-28 in games decided by six points or less during his six seasons in Iowa City -- and the Hawkeyes had been nothing less than horrible in close games all season. There was the four-point overtime lead against Dayton, the eight-point late-game implosion at Iowa State, the sudden last-minute cold streak at Ohio State, the not-quite comeback against Indiana. Even in a season where they were once ranked third nationally, Iowa was 4-10 in games decided by less than ten points. Iowa fans are conditioned to this pessimism. And while Iowa's early overtime lead looked a lot like a burst of renewed hope, we know that move, too. These are games Iowa is destined to lose. We were doomed to our fate, a fate sealed by a questionable -- but unquestionably stupid -- foul at the end of regulation.
So it is fitting that Adam Woodbury, easily the most criticized of these seniors, the 7'1 four-star recruit who was supposed to signal the return of the program but instead became a role player in all of the areas that are often ignored, the player attacked by opposing fans for eye poking and by his own for a distinct lack of dunks, who got the one shining moment on Friday afternoon. As Iowa tried to bleed Temple out in the second half, it was Woodbury's dominance on the offensive glass that kept possessions alive and gave his ice-cold teammates as many opportunities as were needed to keep the Hawkeyes in the game. It was Woodbury who stood up to Temple's slashing guards without much help all afternoon. And it was Woodbury, in so many ways the target and embodiment of that pessimism that oozes from the Iowa fan base, who lifted the curse with a simple tip-in, a play he has missed a hundred times and drew a "JUST DUNK IT" response from his fans on every one.
No matter what happens now, Iowa's seniors have fulfilled their mission. Iowa has been in the 68-team field of the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive seasons, and advanced to the second round in the last two. These seniors have made the Tournament more expectation than novelty, and returned the program to its Dr. Tom heyday after a decade in the desert. Yes, it was the 26 points of Uthoff and the 11 combined assists from Gesell and Clemmons that made it possible. But it was Adam freaking Woodbury who finally, unequivocally, brought Iowa basketball back.