IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Down by 16 points just seven minutes into play, Iowa’s slim NCAA tournament hopes appeared set to vanish.
The Hawkeyes responded with one of the most brilliant stretches of play in the program’s history.
Devyn Marble and Aaron White each had 15 points as Iowa shrugged off an early 21-5 deficit and rolled past Minnesota 72-51 on Sunday for its third straight win.
Freshman Mike Gesell added 11 for the Hawkeyes (17-9, 6-7 Big Ten), who’ve rattled off three consecutive Big Ten victories for the first time in six years.
“They were on the road and they jumped us,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Our team could have wilted right there. But we haven’t shown that we’re going to do that.”
Iowa outscored Minnesota 37-10 in a 20-minute stretch spanning the halves, using a zone defense to stymie the Gophers and pull ahead 42-31 with 15:14 left.
Eric May’s 3 with 8:50 left made it 53-37 Iowa, and a game that started off as a Minnesota rout became a Hawkeyes blowout.
Austin Hollins had 14 points for the Gophers (18-8, 6-7), who’ve lost three of four and are now tied with Iowa in the league standings.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen such a dramatic turnaround in such a short time as a coach of any team that I’ve had,” said Minnesota’s Tubby Smith, who has been coaching college ball since 1979. “That’s about as disappointing of a loss as I’ve ever had.”
Hawkeyes fans sensed this one would have major postseason ramifications. Carver-Hawkeye Arena was sold out for just the third time this season after Iowa beat Northwestern and Penn State to keep afloat in the brutal Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes played about as poorly as they could for the first seven minutes.
Iowa could have hardly played any better for the last 33.
The Gophers had a double-digit lead by the 14-minute mark, as Trevor Mbakwe spun free for a layup and an 18-5 lead. Iowa then fouled Austin Hollins behind the 3-point line, and Minnesota’s lead stretched to 21-5 midway through the first half.
“The funny thing about the game was, we’re down 21-5 but kind of the whole time, I’m thinking that we’re still going to come back and win the game,” White said. “That’s why we came back and executed so well.”
The Hawkeyes executed — and the Gophers fell apart.
Minnesota hit just one shot over the next 10 minutes and Iowa, thanks in part to a switch to a zone defense, surged ahead 29-27 on a pair of Marble 3s.
Nothing epitomized Minnesota’s inexplicable collapse more than Mbakwe’s shooting foul on Iowa’s Zach McCabe — well behind the 3-point line, no less — with 1.5 seconds left in the first half.
“We’ve got to learn how to play with a lead. We’ve had trouble with that all year,” Smith said.
The Hawkeyes continued to play well to start the second half and Minnesota continued to play poorly.
Mbakwe had 10 of his 13 points in the first half for the Gophers, who looked nothing like the team that beat 20th-ranked Wisconsin on Thursday night.
Rodney Williams sat out the second half because of a nagging shoulder injury. But that was the least of Minnesota’s concerns.
Minnesota had 17 turnovers, hit just 3 of 14 3s and at one point was outscored 60-22.
“Anyone can play well if you give them the ball 17 times, if you don’t take good shots. If you don’t play with patience and poise,” Smith said. “But they still made the shots. They shot it extremely well.”
Iowa goes next to Nebraska, which is just 3-10 in the league, and hosts Purdue on Feb. 27. Though the Hawkeyes lost seven of their first 10 Big Ten games, a winning league record suddenly seems attainable.
If they do that, an at-large NCAA tournament bid might be possible.
“We’re playing well. We’re playing better, and a lot of different individuals have contributed to what we’re doing,” McCaffery said.
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