NEW YORK — Eric May stood in front of his basketball locker for the final time as an Iowa Hawkeye with red eyes and a visible heart.
May, a senior, fouled out with 2:41 left in the game and exited to a standing ovation from a sizable Iowa fan base. He first slapped hands with junior Zach McCabe, then with Coach Fran McCaffery before taking a seat. The fans chanted “Er-ic-May, clap-clap-clapclapclap.” He sat quietly, watching Iowa lose the NIT championship 74-54 to Baylor on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
“To put it in perspective to be around these guys and have the support … when I got taken out and to have these fans chant my name is unbelievable,” May said. “I can’t say enough about the Hawkeye fans and how much they mean to me and how grateful I am.”
May scored eight points against Baylor, including five straight for Iowa in a seemingly pivotal stretch. May hit a 3-pointer to cut Iowa’s deficit to two points, then after a Baylor free throw, he scored inside past Bears point guard Pierre Jackson to trim Iowa’s deficit to 28-27.
Baylor responded with an 8-0 run in the next 52 seconds to virtually put the game out of reach with 16:27 left in the game.
“These guys can score in bunches; they’re really dangerous like that,” May said. “If you let up just for a second they go and score, and baskets were tough to come by for us. We weren’t playing our normal game. When you’re missing shots and they’re hitting 3s, it makes it pretty difficult.”
May’s career ends with 859 points in 133 games and 76 starts. He made his mark on the court this year with big shots and solid performances. But the intangibles is how Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery will remember him, not the 20-point loss.
“Nothing will take away from the fact that we had one of the greatest senior leaders I’ve ever been around,” McCaffery said.
May was humbled by McCaffery’s praise.
“I’ve said this before: I’ve got so much respect for Coach McCaffery and how he’s helped me grow this offseason, this past year,” May said. “To affect this team and have a key role on this team, it means so much. This is one of the most special years I’ve had in my life of basketball. The fan support, everything. To be a part of this is unbelievable.”
May also was affectionate about Iowa’s fans.
“Words can’t describe how grateful I am for this fan base and how much I wish I could have given them a championship because that’s what these fans deserve,” May said. “I hope we made them proud with how we played.”
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