IOWA CITY — The old and the new left the Carver-Hawkeye Arena court together Tuesday night, arm and arm, as they received a deserved rousing ovation.
Head coach Fran McCaffery pulled Matt Gatens and Aaron White with just under three seconds to go in Iowa’s 84-75 first-round NIT win over Dayton. As the pair walked off, they shared smiles, hugs and some words.
“I just told him I didn’t want this to be the last game I played with him,” White said. ”I’ve said this multiple times, but he’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever had, and this wasn’t the last game I wanted to play with him. I just wanted to go out and play for him, play for all these guys.”
There were a lot of feel-good moments Tuesday night.
This was Iowa’s first postseason win in nine years, in front of a ready-to-rock, difference-making crowd of 13,190. The Hawks were unreal offensively, shooting it 57 percent from the field. Freshman White had the game of his young career with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
And this was the perfect way for senior Gatens to go out at home. This wasn’t typical “Gator,” as he scored just seven points on 2-for-9 shooting, ending a string of 16 consecutive games scoring in double figures.
But his team won.
“You can’t beat that. A win, with everybody smiling,” Gatens said. ”Guys stepping up and playing huge in big spots. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what team is all about. It was great to show that. Hopefully we’ll continue to show that.”
Gatens was content to take a back seat to guys like White, Zach McCabe (20 points, 8 rebounds) and Melsahn Basabe (15 points), who dominated Dayton on the interior. Yet he stepped up late, as usual, with a 3-pointer with 3:19 left that put the Flyers officially away, 82-67.
“The thing with Matt is he’s not going to turn the ball over, he’s going to have assists,” said McCaffery. “And he probably made the dagger 3 of the game.”
“We didn’t just want to play in the postseason, we want to win,” said Gatens, whose team plays at Oregon in the second round. ”We just want to keep playing. These guys are a lot of fun to play with, I want to keep fighting with them. We’re going to continue to play … “That’s what I told Aaron: ‘Let’s play another day.’ He understands that.”
Gatens applauded the Carver crowd as he got to the Iowa bench, showing his appreciation for their support. Unless eighth-seeded Texas-Arlington advances, or another scheduling conflict with another school arises, this was his Iowa City swan song.
“Still don’t know if it was the last one at Carver,” Gatens said. ”It was fun. The energy was there the whole night. I’m really going to miss playing here, if this was the last time. The fans were incredible, these guys stepped up. Aaron White, Zach McCabe, Melsahn, Bryce (Cartwright) getting 11 assists. It was a total team effort.”
Here’s a little postgame video with Gatens: