It has been a long nine days. The last time we watched this Iowa team, they were in a full blown panic, peeing down their leg while cowering in the corner of the room while their most hated instate rival came all the way back from the dead to win by one. It was agonizing to watch live. Even worse the second time around.
And then I had to write about it.
But as long of a nine days it was for me, it was probably even longer for the Hawks. That's a lot of time to think back on the mental mistakes. A lot of time to second guess Fran McCaffery's continuous decision to let his team figure it out in crunch time with timeouts expiring in his pocket. A lot of time to question the Hawkeyes veterans who allowed a sure fire win (97.9% win probability with 1:08 left in the game), to become a loss.
On Saturday night, you could see some of those hangover effects during their tilt with Drake. Sure it wasn't pretty. Nor was it gracious. But a win is a win and while it was ONLY Drake, coming together late to seal a tight victory is exactly what the Hawkeyes needed to get over the stink from nine days ago.
But it wasn't just the win that stuck with me after the game, but the performances of one of the most beloved Iowa seniors on the roster and a redshirt freshman walk-on who completely stole the night.
McCaffery's point guard is having one hell of a final season. He's playing in 71.5% of the teams total minutes (which leads the squad) and is 36th in the country in assist rate (36.3%). 36.3%! If he continues to play at this level during the conference slate, he will finish the season in the discussion for best point guard/creator in the Big Ten (Don't worry, I see you Denzel).
Going into the game against Drake, Gesell was averaging a little over seven points per game, seven assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. While his total field goal percentage for the year hasn't been pretty (39.7%), he's shooting 40% from long distance. The fact remains, his scoring is an added bonus for this team as long as he continues to relish as the overseer of the offense and remains in control of this up and down system:
Saturday afternoon was no different. Gesell scored 17 points, grabbed three boards and assisted on four made buckets. He was 7-8 from the floor (which is a good sign heading into Big Ten season) and 2-2 from three point land, including this beautiful shot off of a crafty two man game with Nicholas Baer:
With Uthoff in foul trouble for the majority of this game -- which prevented the forward from getting into any kind of rhythm -- it was imperative that Gesell helped carry the scoring load.
I can't write it enough, but when you look at Gesell, you can't help but wonder how he is going to hold his own on the court. But then he gets out there, starts to get super sweaty and it just makes sense. He does the simple things better than anyone else. Whether it's where he collects inbound passes off of a made bucket, how quickly he takes that first dribble and pushes it up the sideline, how he clears out the fast break and resets the offense if the counter punch doesn't work or when he slow plays his dribble in hopes of dragging a help defender in his direction, it's all a work of Big Ten art.
He picked up the load against Drake. He was so damn impressive. He is generally so unselfish -- only scoring when necessary -- but last night, not finishing was not an option for him anymore. He showed me a new side of this team, where Uthoff doesn't have to be the only guy McCaffery can lean on in crunch time. That Mike Gesell is more than capable of putting his onions on full display as the final minutes trickle down:
Talk about the Baer necessities (I'm sorry that was bad)...
Many of you probably don't know Nicholas Baer from a kid at your local YMCA, but the Bettendorf native is making a strong case for both extended minutes during Big Ten play and a scholarship.
That's right, Nicholas Baer, who contributed 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and SIX blocked shots against Drake off the bench, is a redshirt freshman preferred walk-on.
But against Drake, you would have thought he was a three star recruit with plenty of D-I offers because preferred walk-on's aren't supposed to do this:
What about this?
Baer is that typical tweener that McCaffery loves. He wasn't heavily recruited by D-I programs because of his size (or lack thereof depending on what position you wanted him to play). But after those fill in minutes for an overly-hacking Uthoff, it's definitely possible that this kid could be a full time starter as soon as next year, right?
Baer was visibly playing with a jumbo chip on his shoulder, one that I can absolutely see the coaching staff approves of. He has shown in several games this season that he can do a little bit of everything on the court. Want three's? He's got it -- including two back-to-back triples that helped push Iowa's lead to eight in the second half against the Bulldogs. Want a clutch steal that leads to a break away dunk? No problem (the third Vine above). Need someone to dive after loose balls, grab defensive rebounds, play big in the post and box out consistently? Baer can do all of that.
I know I'm overreacting just a smidge, but what Baer did last night was jaw dropping. I don't care if it was against Drake or the School of the Traveling Sisters. You just aren't supposed to get that kind of out put from a walk-on. Good grades and some practice team magic? Surely. But not 30 minutes, 13 points on 5-10 shooting (3-5 from long distance), seven boards, two assists, one steal and SIX BLOCKS.
Baer Down, Hawkeyes.