Fran McCaffery didn't have any trouble getting his team pumped up to play in the NIT (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
It's amazing what a little energy from the audience can do to give the home team a boost. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Iowa played "one of its most complete games of the season" on Tuesday night during a tournament that has many schools struggling to sell tickets. Or maybe the rush of playing in front of 13,000 crazy people pushed the Hawkeyes onward to an 84-75 victory over Dayton in what will turn out to be their last home game this season.
Said coach Fran McCaffery, "I just want to say how happy I am for these guys and how thankful I am for the Hawkeye fans to show up the way they did tonight, which was absolutely amazing. We didn't know we were having a game until Sunday night, and 13,000 people show up in less than 48 hours."
Black Heart Gold Pants does a good job describing the scene:
The mania is easy to understand. It had been six years since Iowa played their last post-season basketball game. Six years. It was as if the fans had been on a hunger strike and then got to break it at the Golden Corral. They gobbled up every morsel of good play, and the Hawks gave them plenty: numerous Aaron White dunks (including an amazing one off a half-court lob from Bryce Cartwright that made SportsCenters top plays), a sickreverse dunk, and owning the interior like he was Shaquille O'Neal -- and that was just in the first three minutes.
I watched a decent portion of this game while flipping back and forth with the MVSU vs. Western Kentucky game and the two things that stood out were how enthusiastic the crowd was and how easily Iowa was able to run down the floor for buckets against the Dayton defense. Most of the teams Iowa upset this season (Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana) are on the small side. Dayton isn't exactly huge either and it didn't have the size to contain Aaron White or Melsahn Basabe.
On defense, Iowa certainly struggled to contain Kevin Dillard (25 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists), and the talented point guard certainly shot the ball much better than I thought he would. However, Matt Gatens, who McCaffery has said should have been on the Big Ten All-Defense team, played a great game.
Fran McCaffery stuck Gatens on Dayton's best perimeter shooters for much of the game -- frequentlyand Chris Johnson -- and Dayton stuck their best perimeter defender -- Johnson -- on Gatens. Johnson and Gatens canceled each other out almost exactly, with Gatens scoring seven points on 2-9 shooting and Johnson scoring 8 on 3-8 shooting.
It's not as though Iowa needed Gatens to score points in this game. Aaron White absolutely killed it, both on the offensive glass and on the fast break. He was 10 for 15 from the field with 25 points and 11 rebounds (4 on offense). Zach McCabe was a ridiculous 9 for 9 from the field with 20 points and 8 rebounds, and Basabe scored 15 points with 2 blocks. Bryce Cartwright was a master distributor with 11 assists, many of which were on the run.
On the emotional side, it was cool for Gatens to leave Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the last time with a win, even if he wasn't the star of the show. "Its been an incredible four years," he said, "If this is indeed the last one, it’s a great way to go out."
The audience wouldn't have it any other way. "Probably the toughest venue we have been in all season long other than maybe Xavier on the road," said Dayton coach Archie Miller, "We were coming into a bee’s nest."
Buzzing like a bee, and crowing like a hawk...eye. Either way, it was a very fun night for all those involved with Iowa basketball. Next up, they'll take on Oregon this Sunday over in Eugene.