No one knew if this would be Gatens' final exit from the home venue. They weren't going to let it go without acknowledgement to each other.
Despite Dayton's determination to smother Gatens, the senior from Iowa City hit an important three-pointer in the closing minutes of the Hawkeyes' 84-75 NIT win here Tuesday night. Iowa's underclassmen, particularly the post players, backed their star with the aid of a raucous crowd of 13,190 people.
Freshman Aaron White scored a career-best 25 points, many of which came on electrifying dunks that brought the crowd to its feet. He also grabbed 11 rebounds, one shy of his Iowa high.
"I think we fed off of each other," White said when asked if he got the crowd going or it was the other way around. "They were great."
The Hawkeye faithful came with a renewed excitement about the program and to see Gatens at least one more time before his standout career ended. What they were provided was a promising look into the future.
In addition to White's effort, sophomore's Zach McCabe (20 points, eight rebounds) and Melsahn Basabe (15 points, five rebounds, two blocks) helped dominate the paint on Tuesday. Iowa held a 48-30 advantage in that area.
"It seemed like every time we needed a bucket, we went to them and they were going to get it," said Gatens, who finished with seven points, four assists and two rebounds. "I was really proud of all of them. The young guys are stepping up."
Dayton hung around until Basabe and McCabe converted back-to-back lay-ups and White slammed one home to push the lead 15 with eight minutes left in regulation. The Hawkeyes (18-16) led by double figures the rest of the way until Dayton tossed in a trey as time expired.
Former Iowa assistant Coach Rich Walker took in the game from press row. Afterwards, he said it felt like old times in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It did. The crowd did more than show up. It played a role in helping the home team win.
"It was so loud," said McCabe, who grew up a Hawkeye fan in Sioux City. "I couldn't yell loud enough for Bryce (Cartwright) to hear me on screens. It was crazy. That's what Carver used to be like. That's what I remember."
If it turns out to be Cartwright's last home game, the senior went out in style. He handed out 11 assists against just two turnovers in 35 minutes.
There's been a lot of discussion in the last month about certain wins being important to the future of the program. From the back-to-back wins against Indiana and Wisconsin to a first-round triumph against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament last week, the blocks continue to stack up. Another piece of the puzzle moved into place on Tuesday.
"This is a pretty memorable moment, but we can't be satisfied," Gatens said. "We didn't come into this thing wanting to win just one, but it's a big step to get one. It meant a lot to have the home fans out there. It was an incredible atmosphere."
Iowa will face the winner of LSU-Oregon in the second round. The day, time and site are to be determined.