The Thrill of Victory & A Chance to Build

Just when you think you are out, they pull you back in. Some fans might be thinking or saying that about the Iowa Men's basketball team after witnessing its stunning 84-82 2-OT win at Indiana on Saturday. The starters played 237 of the 250 minutes of a game that will be remembered for a long time in Iowa City. Will this win be a springboard for a solid Big Ten finish by the Hawkeyes? Or will it be another in a long line of peaks and valleys under Steve Alford? Jon Miller talks about it...

At the conclusion of Iowa's 84-82 double-overtime victory against Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday, a camera man was taking a low-angle shot of Iowa guard Jeff Horner and captured Horner saying one of two things:

It was either ‘Oh my God' or ‘I'm gonna die'. I rewound the tape several times with the audio cranked after the game was over, but I could not tell for certain which of the two things he said.

Either statement would suffice.

Afterall, Horner and four of his Iowa teammates had just played what might end up being the game of their lives.

Horner played 49 of 50 possible minutes, as did Brody Boyd. Glen Worley and Pierre Pierce played 47 minutes each and Greg Brunner played 45 minutes.

Reserves Erek Hansen and Kurt Spurgeon played 10 and three minutes, respectively.

Iowa was on the losing end of a 2-OT thriller in Bloomington just one year ago, losing 91-88.

In 2003, Iowa had just seven recruited scholarship players to play with. That is the same number they had available to them on this afternoon in 2004.

Jeff Horner was playing on a badly sprained ankle last year and gutted out 33 minutes when no one, including Iowa's coaches, felt he would even play in that game.

In this game, Horner would score 17 points, all in the second half, grab 10 rebounds, dish out five assists and commit but two turnovers in 49 minutes of play.

He also hit the game winner, a drive into the lane, then a spin move towards the paint, banking the ball off the glass from five-feet out and straight on, with less then two seconds to go.

Indiana sent the game to overtime and then to a second overtime with two amazing plays that might happen once a year or once every two years.

But Iowa would not be denied.

Say what you will about this Iowa basketball team or the program, but this year's team has played very, very hard game in and game out.

Saturday was no exception.

The Hawkeyes clearly wanted to force the ball into the paint against a smallish Indiana team, even though seven-foot center George Leach has returned from an early season knee injury.

Greg Brunner played perhaps the best game of his Iowa career, scoring 23 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He scored 26 points against Louisville earlier this year, but he had just four rebounds in that overtime game, playing 41 minutes.

He also had centers Jared Reiner and Sean Sonderleiter by his side, something he and his Iowa teammates did not have on Saturday.

Glen Worley played one of the best games of his Iowa career, hitting several key shots on his way to scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds.

Brody Boyd scored 13 points and hit some key three-point shots, continuing his streak of solid play in his home state of Indiana.

Pierre Pierce chipped in 11 points, though he committed seven turnovers.

But this was not a game to look at any negatives. It's hard to find many of those when a shorthanded group of Hawkeyes left it all on the court and willed themselves to a victory…a much needed victory, I should say.

There have been too many occasions over the past two seasons where Iowa has turned in an exceptional effort, only to come up short.

With their ranks shrinking, the Iowa players needed to win one of these games to take some momentum into the second half of the Big Ten season.

The ended the first half of the league circuit at 4-4. Iowa was 3-1 at home and 1-3 on the road.

The second half starts off with a quality road win at Indiana before returning home to face a suddenly struggling Wisconsin ball club who was just shellacked at Northwestern.

Four of Iowa's final seven games are at home, including four of their next five games.

Prior to Iowa's game at Michigan State, I felt that a split on this two-game road trip would be a success. Winning in such thrilling and exhausting fashion puts an exclamation on that statement.

While watching Iowa beat Indiana on Saturday the way that they did, I was reminded of another double-overtime Iowa win in 2000.

That win came on the gridiron at Penn State, where the Hawkeyes beat the Nittany Lions 26-23.

Iowa finished that season 3-9, but they finished strong, posting a 2-1 record. The win against PSU and a home win against a ranked Northwestern team that had put 50-points on the board against Michigan the week before Iowa beat them in Kinnick.

Since Iowa beat Penn State on that November day back in 2000, they have gone 30-11. It was certainly one of the defining moments in Kirk Ferentz's Iowa tenure.

During the four and a half years of the Steve Alford era, there have been some highs and lows. His teams have not handled success very well and have not been able to string together very many sustained winning streaks in Big Ten play. In fact, Iowa has won two or more Big Ten games in a row just four times in Alford's time at Iowa.

But a win like this MIGHT be a turning point for Alford and his Iowa basketball program.

Or at least, the opportunity is there to put the inconsistencies in the past and build on a great win.

Time will tell if that comes to bear.

At 5-4, Iowa is tied for fourth place in the Big Ten, and just two games back of first place in the loss column. One of the two teams that have two losses in league play is Wisconsin, a team that comes into Carver-Hawkeye arena on Wednesday night.

This season has had its share of low-points, what with two players being ruled academically ineligible, a transfer, Jared Reiner lost for the season with a stress fracture in his foot and Sean Sonderleiter's sudden resignation from the team.

But at least on one Saturday in February, the Iowa Hawkeyes were all smiles, and their struggles were miles away and glossed over with smiles and jubilation from a well earned victory.

Here is to hoping they can put together a nice win streak.


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