IOWA CITY –Mike Gesell’s injured right foot prevented him from practicing after Iowa’s NIT-opening win against Indiana State.
He stayed off his foot, which has a stress reaction, and his only exercise late this week was in a swimming pool. He didn’t start Friday night and he entered the game only midway through the first half in a second-round NIT game against Stony Brook.
But Gesell had a major impact in Iowa’s 75-63 win. He scored five points, dished three assists and had no turnovers in 19 minutes. He also fueled a crucial pair of second-half possessions that put Iowa (23-12) into the lead for good.
With the score tied 41-41, Gesell drilled a 3-pointer with 16:04 left. On Iowa’s next offensive possession, Gesell penetrated then passed to Melsahn Basabe for an open dunk to put Iowa up 46-41.
“When I hit the 3, Dev (Marble) drove my defender and hit me for the open 3,” Gesell said. “I just shot it with confidence. Then I was just looking to try to make plays and continue to attack.
“In a lot of our close losses, we weren’t attacking enough down the stretch. So I was just looking to attack and drew Mel’s defender and got him the dunk, too.”
Gesell didn’t enter the game until there was 9:35 left in the first half. He played six minutes in the firsts half and 13 minutes in the second half.
“That’s exactly what we hoped to get,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We got a shot maker, a penetrator, an assist guy with three assists and no turnovers, solid defense. We thought he could give 19 or 20 minutes. We kept spotting him.
“At the end, I probably left him in and just said, ‘OK, I’m going with you now. I’ve got four timeouts left, if we need to start calling them, we’ll do that to get home.’”
Gesell averages nearly 27 minutes a game but said the limited minutes helped him.
“Coach decided to start Eric May and back off my minutes a little bit just to keep me fresh, so that when I’m out there I can go as hard as I can and not have to worry about taking it easy on my foot,” Gesell said. “I think it actually did help. I felt I was able to hold up even better than in our last game against Indiana State.”
It’s possible Iowa senior Eric May has played his last home game, and if he did, he went out with a roar.
May started and scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and had four assists in 30 minutes. With 35 seconds left, May left the game to a standing ovation. He waved his hand to the crowd and hugged McCaffery coming off the court. May said it was a special moment.
“I’ve got butterflies thinking of it right now,” May said afterward. “Just a really special. Everything this university has given me, these fans have been so phenomenal. They stuck with us, and I think we’re giving them a reason to do that. To have a standing ovation with the crowd was really special.”
May has started 73 games in his Iowa career and has scored 832 points.
Iowa will face the Virginia-St. John’s winner next Wednesday in an NIT quarterfinal at an undetermined location. If Virginia wins, Iowa will travel to Charlottesville. If St. John’s wins, Iowa will play host to one more game this year. The Virginia-St. John’s game airs on ESPN at 10 a.m. Sunday.
“I’m sure we’ll get together and watch that game after we eat,” May said. “We’re getting ready for both of those teams until that day.”
Iowa notched its third consecutive sellout Friday, including its second straight in the NIT. Iowa has posted the three largest crowds to watch the NIT since 2009.
“It’s awesome having all of this fan support,” Gesell said. “I think Hawkeye fans are some of the best fans in the nation. Just shows the support they have for us and it’s awesome that they can make it out here for these games.”
Iowa averaged 13,625 in attendance this year, its best since the 2001-02 season. Iowa also set a school record with its 18th home victory.