Miller: Hawks Go the Distance vs Michigan

Four of Iowa's five starters logged 45 minutes on Saturday against Michigan in the Hawkeyes 70-60 overtime win. Four of them scored in double figures and each of them had at least six rebounds. It was most definitely a team effort, and a gutty one at that. Jon Miller has more on this corner turning victory...

Iowa beat Michigan 70-60 in Iowa City on Sunday in front of more than 14,000 rabid fans.  The Hawks needed overtime to pull it off, but it was an amazing feat for a team that was incredibly undermanned and outmatched physically.


Iowa played the game without its starting point guard (Jeff Peterson), without a healthy Cyrus Tate, without its best outside shooter (Anthony Tucker) and without one of the players that has been in the rotation for the entire year (Jermaine Davis).


Does this team have heart?  Can this staff coach?  Without question.


Four Iowa players went the entire 45 minutes.  Have you ever seen anything like that?  I know I haven't, when we talk about games that only went one overtime.  Jake Kelly didn't come out, because Iowa didn't have another point guard option.  All he did was play the best game of his career and continue to show why he is one of the most exciting players to don the black and gold in the past decade.


Kelly scored 23 points, handed out nine assists, hauled in eight rebounds and committed just two turnovers.  He also did an amazing job of guarding Michigan's dangerous Manny Harris, who came into this game averaging nearly 20 points per game.  When you factor that into his performance, it was one of the grittiest, guttiest 45 minutes of basketball I have seen an Iowa player put forth in several years.


Kelly has scored 42 points over his last two games playing the point guard position, and at times has been devastating off the dribble.  But Kelly wasn't alone on this day.


Matt Gatens (16 points), Devan Balwinkel (12 points) and Aaron Fuller (seven points) also went 45 minutes.  Balwinkel hit four trey's on the day against the coach that recruited him to West Virginia, in addition to a team leading nine rebounds.  Jarryd Cole went a career high 38 minutes and scored 10 points to go along with seven boards.


In fact, each of Iowa's starting five players I have listed had at least six rebounds.  I don't recall a starting five doing that in quite some time, either. 


It's a good think that Iowa went for 14 points in overtime, because they were running on empty.  Gatens appeared on the brink of exhaustion, but he still hit some bit shots and free throws down the stretch, in addition to a few amazing defensive plays and a big blocked shot late in the game after he had missed a free throw.


Iowa committed just 10 turnovers in 45 minutes, and outrebounded Michigan 40 to 33.  Both of those statistics are significant and impressive.


Cyrus Tate played four minutes and Davis Palmer played three minutes.  Outside of that, it was the starting five for the entire way.


I know this is the third time I have referenced that, but it's hard to believe I just saw that, until I look at the stat sheet.


One year ago, this Iowa team faded down the stretch, losing six of their last eight games.  That team looked like it had hit a wall and was unable to muster much of a fight down the stretch.


This year's Iowa team is into its last guaranteed eight games, and stands 2-2 midway through that run, including last week's four point loss at home against a ranked Purdue team.  They don't show any signs of mailing it in or hitting that mental wall, but you wonder how this team can hold up physically with such a short bench.


Head coach Todd Lickliter has mentioned the fact that his team is playing some of the leagues best teams more competitively the second time around this season; they lost by 15 at Michigan earlier this year, a team that beat UCLA and Duke this year, and beat them on Sunday.  They were blown out at Purdue, and nearly pulled off an upset win on their home court. 


One reason is being at home, and in Iowa's last three home games against Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan, Carver Hawkeye Arena has been alive and very much a home court advantage again.  The past two home games have seen over 14,000 fans come back into the arena.  Time was when that was a disappointing number, but times have changed over the past five years. 


The bottom line is that it has been great to see and hear the home court advantage return in Iowa City for a team that has been playing its collective heart out.  That hasn't always translated into wins, but for the most part, this team has fought and has refused to give up.


Iowa trailed 56-52 with roughly one-minute to go on Sunday, but they did not wilt.  They made four free throws and sent it into overtime.  That was part of an 18 to 4 Iowa run to close the game, again, with four players on the floor that never left the game. 


These are the types of wins that can be the beginning of something.  These are the types of wins that you can look back on two or three years down the road and remember, ‘Hey, this is the line of demarcation, the point when things turned around.'


Perhaps that was last Saturday against Purdue at home, once again with a short manned team.


We have seen this coaching staff pull together and get this undermanned team to be incredibly competitive against better teams, and even come out on top against better teams.  It gets me excited to see what they can do with a full roster, a healthy roster and a roster made up mostly of kids that have been in their system for at least a year.


Kelly's emergence at the point guard and his ability to handle those tasks makes recruiting that position a little easier to deal with in the event that Iowa doesn't added a point guard this spring.  Coach Lickliter believes Anthony Tucker can play that spot, too.


For some, this write up might be too optimistic; I guess I can see that side of things, but even if you are pessimistic by nature, you have to be really proud of this team.  And even the most vision challenged among you has to see positives for the future.


I know that some of this good feeling may be dashed Wednesday night in East Lansing; much better Iowa teams have gone there and lost by 25 or more points.  That could happen to Iowa this week.


But with a road game at Northwestern and home games against Ohio State and Penn State to close the season, the Hawks have a fighting chance to end this season with some momentum, and possibly receive an invitation to one of the lesser post season tournaments that exist.


For a program that is still in the rebuilding stages, that would definitely be something to be proud of.

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