Another rally, another men’s hoops win

by Jabari Ritchie

IOWA CITY, Iowa – When Iowa forward Reggie Evans converted a half-court steal into a one-handed breakaway slam dunk against Minnesota’s men’s basketball team on Saturday, more than half the game was left to play.

Despite trailing by only seven points with over a minute remaining in the first half, the Gophers looked destined to continue their year-long string of collapses on the road.

After going toe-to-toe with the Hawkeyes for most of the first half, Minnesota turned the ball over on its last four possessions of the half while Iowa went on a 9-0 run in the final three minutes before the break.

The run, highlighted by Evans’ dunk, ignited a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the Gophers looked ahead to a challenging second half in hostile territory.

Then Minnesota – which entered the contest with just one road win – showed it can be just as dominant away from its home court as it can be at Williams Arena. The Gophers (14-7, 7-3 Big Ten) opened the second half on a 26-5 run and never trailed again on their way to an 86-78 win.

“One game doesn’t make you road warriors, and one game doesn’t cure everything, but it was the manner in which we won that game,” said Minnesota coach Dan Monson, whose squad owns a 12-1 home record, but is only 2-6 away from Minneapolis. “We’ve had stretches this year where we’d break on the road.”

On Saturday, the Gophers’ troubles began after Minnesota guard Steve Esselink sank a three-pointer to put his team up 36-34 with 3:55 remaining in the first half.
The Hawkeyes (15-10, 4-7) responded with a quick Ryan Hogan layup to tie the game. The four
ensuing steals lead to a three-pointer by guard Luke Recker, Evans’ dunk and four free throws.

“We’ve got to be aggressive,” said Minnesota forward Dusty Rychart, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds. “We can’t be timid or afraid. Eventually that registered, but I’d like it if it registered 20 minutes earlier.”

The Hawkeyes out-rebounded Minnesota 20-17 and forced 12 turnovers in the first half.

“I put a number on the board at halftime: 51-26,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said, referring to the Gophers’ second-half score in a come-from-behind win against Indiana last week. “We were up by nine and feeling good, but (Minnesota) is loaded on offense and they can come back.”

Aided by three steals and a blocked shot, Minnesota outscored the Hawkeyes 12-2 in the first five minutes of the second half.

The Gophers took a permanent lead with 15:17 remaining when forward Jerry Holman was fouled while making a layup and converted the ensuing free throw.

“The energy level flip-flopped,” said Hawkeyes forward Duez Henderson. “We had a couple costly turnovers and fouls and basically you look up and it’s a 26-5 run.”

While Minnesota posted a .650 field goal percentage after the break, Iowa shot just 29.6 percent.

“We just started realizing that we weren’t playing as hard as we wanted to,” said Minnesota forward Rick Rickert, who shot 70 percent for a team-leading 23 points. “We had a good talk at half time and wanted to come out with a little bit more energy.”

After Holman’s three-point play, Minnesota built a lead of as many as 12 points before the Hawkeyes closed the score to 74-73 on a Recker three-pointer with 3:25 left in the game.

But by winning the battle of free-throw shooting that began with roughly five minutes remaining, the Gophers held off Iowa.

By the game’s end, Minnesota had been charged with 26 personal fouls and Iowa with 25. More than 33 percent of the points scored in the game resulted from the 75 free throws attempted by both teams.

“I’m not saying the refs were bad or anything, but (Recker) shot 11 free throws, and that’s a lot for one player,” said Minnesota guard Travarus Bennett, who had 11 points and four steals. “The refs ought to let us play a little bit and stop calling these knick-knack fouls.”