IOWA CITY — Anthony Clemmons’ stat line in his second career start was so impressive Tuesday night, it surprised his fellow teammates.
Clemmons, an Iowa freshman point guard, dished eight assists without any turnovers and scored four points in 21 minutes. His play elevated the offense, especially in the first half, of Iowa’s 87-63 win against South Dakota.
Iowa sophomore Aaron White, scored a game-high 21 points, drilled a 3-pointer off a Clemmons’ pass that gave Iowa a 21-point, second-half lead. When asked about Clemmons’ performance and told about the eight assists, White did a double take to the question.
“Tonight he did? That’s pretty impressive,” White said. “I hadn’t looked at the stats yet. He’s grown in every practice, every game. Eight assists, no turns, that’s very good especially in a game like this where we didn’t care of the ball that great. He’s learning every day. Those are good numbers out of our starting point guard.”
Clemmons directed traffic in the first half without scoring a point. In 10 minutes, he notched five assists. When he was in the lineup, Iowa scored on 14 of 19 offensive possessions. When he was out, Iowa scored on only eight of 19 possessions.
“He’s seeing things,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “The match‑up zone is not the easiest thing to play against, unless you have a feel for how you play or unless you see it. He made great decisions: when to pass it in, when to drive it into the gap, when to drive it on the baseline, when to shoot it, when not to, when to fake them. I mean, he was terrific.”
Clemmons, who has 26 assists and only eight turnovers this season, was known as a top defender and good distributor when he arrived from Lansing, Mich. He flashed both skills on a pivotal sequence that broke the game wide open.
With Iowa clinging to a five-point lead late in the first half, Clemmons re-entered the game after a 10-minute layoff. He stole South Dakota’s inbound pass and lunged past the baseline to retrieve the ball. Clemmons saved it, then tossed to Devyn Marble near the basket. Marble dunked off Clemmons’ assist and pushed Iowa’s lead to 36-29.
“He does a good job of running our offense,” Marble said. “He sets people up with his creativity and gets past the defender and draws help. He really should have had 10 (assists). I missed a couple of shots I should have made. That’s my fault. I apologized to him.”
Clemmons’ emergence has changed Iowa’s offensive direction just one month into the season. Original starting point guard Mike Gesell has moved to the off-guard spot and Marble now opens at the wing. All three get time at the point, but Gesell was recruited to play the position and designated the starter as early as last March.
“We’re fortunate we have three guys that can play the point,” McCaffery said. “It’s been a little bit of an adjustment because (Gesell) really wasn’t at the two at all since he got here in the summer. So he’s essentially learning the two spot on the fly, so he forgets where to go sometimes, but little by little he’s figuring that out.
“(Gesell) is such a good scorer, and he’s so good off the ball. We’re playing him both places.”
Gesell averages 8.2 points a game, third-best on the team. He’s also one assist shy of Marble for the team lead in assists and he’s second in minutes played at 25.1.
White, who averages 13.7 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds a game, said Gesell will flourish at the two-guard.
“I think he’s a good transition of the two (spots),” White said. “He’s a good shooter. He can pop the ball fine.”
“If Sapp (Clemmons) gets in foul trouble or if Coach wants to change the lineup, and (Gesell) can play the one or Dev can play the one. It’s good with our team. We’ve got a lot of versatility, especially with the guards.”