IOWA CITY – Clear space on future Iowa men’s basketball schedules for more of these in Decembers, please.
The atmosphere in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Tuesday night’s Notre Dame-Iowa game was March-like. The intensity on the court was March-like. The two teams looked like they’re fully capable of playing deep into March, and that doesn’t mean the NIT.
It took the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to mandate this home game for Iowa against an opponent with a recognizable name and basketball pedigree. The game had meaning to the fans and the players, and the arena had the kind of excitement usually reserved for good Big Ten opponents or Iowa State.
The fans, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, “knew the significance of the game and wanted to be here.”
It didn’t hurt that the basketball was played with the entertainment dial set at 10 for two hours. Iowa’s 98-93 win was played at an NBA pace, with players on both squads attacking with confidence.
This thing was frenetic without being frantic, at least most of the time. The result was in doubt all the way. But once the Hawkeyes regained the lead with 14:06 left, they never let go of it. And it wasn’t as if they weren’t pushed hard.
If the Hawkeyes had any physical or emotional hangover from their three games in 50 hours in the Bahamas last week and an unusually long trip home, they left it behind after tip-off.
This Iowa team is a lot to handle for an opponent that uses a 7-man rotation, no matter how skilled it may be. Notre Dame’s Gang of Seven put on a great show, but got taken down by Iowa’s depth and game. Barely.
The ACC added Notre Dame for clout, not basketball prowess. But this Irish team has a lineup chock full o’ experience and ability. For a first road game of the season, the Irish acted like they’d been there before. Given they were 11-7 in the Big East and 25-10 overall last season, they had been.
Iowa shot 56.9 percent from the field and made 25 of 29 free throws. It had to keep making shots to win this one, and did.
“A tough team to play against,” McCaffery said, and he was right.
In the first-half, which ended with the Hawkeyes ahead 52-43, Iowa’s star of stars was junior center Gabe Olaseni. He exceeded his scoring average in the half with nine points, had five rebounds and two assists, and brought the energy he always brings.
If you were an agent, you could be allowed to represent just one current Hawkeye in the future, and you had to make that decision today? You might be making a shrewd call going with the 6-foot-10 Olaseni, who seems to come up with more to offer all the time.
He can run, he can jump, he likes to rebound and block shots, and he clearly has added to his offense, which consisted mostly of dunks in his first two seasons. However, he collected his third foul with 16:13 left and wasn’t heard from again.
Which brought Iowa back to its proven stars, Devyn Marble and Aaron White. Marble had a second-half stretch reminiscent of the kind Matt Gatens put on here more than once late in his 2011 senior season. He scored 13 straight points for his team as he turned a 57-55 Irish lead into a 68-62 Iowa edge.
“When he recognizes what his team needs,”McCaffery said, “he just takes over.
“We were sideways, we give away our entire lead, and somebody had to step up. … It took Dev to do it first.”
"When he's on fire, he's on fire," said Iowa guard Mike Gesell.
"We were being sluggish offensively and defensively," Marble said.
"I don't like seeing this stuff happen more than once in a season. I was looking (at it) like it was about to happen, another Villanova game. I didn't like that, so I had to make a change."
When the Irish didn't wither, junior forward White established himself. He had four dunks in the game if you count one that didn’t go down only because it was goal-tended. He had 20 points and a career-high seven assists, the last a feed to wide-open Jarrod Uthoff for a clinching jam with 20 seconds left. He had more assists in the second-half (five) than he had accumulated in any previous game in his career.
White was the game’s best player down the stretch, which is saying something considering how many players on both sides flourished.
Uthoff had a bit of a slump in the Bahamas and started slowly Tuesday. But he was a big man down the stretch.
Iowa certainly will be glad not to face Irish center Garrick Sherman again. The 6-11 senior had a career-high 29 points and moved so smartly to get open when he didn't have the ball. Some interior defense would be nice in the future for the Hawkeyes, but they were rightly respectful of Notre Dame’s 3-point ability, so something had to give.
It takes two to make a contest, and the Irish held up their end of the bargain. What a fun ballgame. Let’s have more here in Decembers to come. Surely a Maryland Eastern Shore can be sacrificed.