AMES, Iowa — Now that was a ringing endorsement for basketball in the state of Iowa.
And when I say “ringing” I mean it, as in the thing going on in my ears until sometime during the drive home.
Iowa and Iowa State put on a brilliant showcase for the sport in our state Friday night at Hilton Coliseum, with the Cyclones pulling a rabbit out of their hat in the final 90 seconds to win 85-82. Let’s hope people outside our borders were paying attention, because both programs are well on their way to great things, both this season and in the near future.
Iowa squandered a five-point lead in the final 1:26, yet still had chances to force overtime or win in regulation, with two guys familiar to many in our region holding the ball.
Former South Sioux City star Mike Gesell went to the line for two shots with 13.1 seconds left and his team trailing 82-81. With the crowd screaming at him, the first one clanged off the back iron.
At that point, as I sat directly in front of the ISU students, it was like a light bulb went on in everyone’s mind: “Hey, if he misses the next one, we’re probably going to win.” They took it up several decibel levels, to a place I’ve honestly never heard in a basketball arena.
The second one rattled in and then popped out. That made three straight misses from the line for Iowa, because Roy Devyn Marble had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 35 seconds left.
Dustin Hogue made two free throws for Iowa State to make it a three-point game with 12.1 seconds left. Fred Hoiberg then ordered his team to foul. The Cyclones have been burned numerous times in the past two seasons on tying 3-pointers in the final seconds.
His team didn’t get the message. It left ex-Sioux City Heelan standout Zach McCabe wide open from beyond the arc on the left wing. He entered the game second in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 48 percent. As it floated toward the basket, I had a good vantage point and it appeared to be right on line.
It rolled in and out, as did Aaron White’s tip try. That was three straight shots that rolled in and out in the final 13 seconds. And they say Hilton Magic isn’t something tangible.
“Those are the guys I would have picked,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of the late free throws. “I know they feel terrible right now, and I feel for them.”
Gesell stood at the free-throw line after his misses, hands on his hips. Nobody takes being a student and an athlete more seriously. Then again, nobody is better equipped to bounce back from such a potentially scarring moment.
Another Siouxland guy, McCabe is the one you want by your side if you’re involved in any type of skirmish. Watch him pursue loose balls, and you’ll quickly understand how badly he wants to win.
It had to have been a lonely trip back to Iowa City. Iowa outplayed the Cyclones for most of the game, especially when you consider the environment it walked into. The Hawks did everything necessary to build the platform to the victory circle, then took the wrong stairway leading up to it.
Likewise, when given its own pathway in the closing seconds, Iowa State jumped right up without hesitation.
Finally, to the most inconsequential discussion in the aftermath of the game, the ISU students’ decision to storm the court. I’m constantly amazed at the holier-than-thou experts who claim to know when it’s proper to storm and when it’s not.
Listen, they’re college kids. There’s not always a lot of advance thought. College kids do what they feel. Several of those kids camped out overnight in the bitter cold to get the best seats. They watched the first meeting in the series between nationally rated teams in 26 years. They watched their team fall behind by five with 81 seconds left, and then somehow pull out the win against their intrastate enemy to remain unbeaten.
I could hear some of the students’ discussion as the seconds ticked away. They weren’t sure whether to go. When one or two went, everyone followed. Soon everyone was belting out “Sweet Caroline” on the court.
Not surprising. They shouldn’t apologize. And we shouldn’t be so quick to play judge and jury when they do storm.