Back on the bubble: Iowa thrashes Minnesota in important win

The Iowa men’s basketball team has lacked a signature win all season long.

The Hawkeyes had opportunities in the final minutes to win at home against Indiana and Michigan State, and at Minnesota.

Squandered, squandered, and squandered.

With a golden opportunity on the horizon for that notable victory on Sunday against Minnesota, Iowa (17-9, 6-7 Big Ten) stormed back after being down by as many as 16 to defeat the Gophers (18-8, 6-7), 72-51, in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Mission accomplished.

“You’ve got to remember, [Minnesota] came into this game with a sense of urgency as well,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Lots of times, our team could have wilted right there. We haven’t shown that we’re going to do that any time this year.”

After a double-OT loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 6, Iowa was left with little to no room for error down the stretch. Want to make the NCAA Tournament? Go 7-1 — or maybe 6-2, depending on the scenarios — in your final eight games.

Well, a 3-0 start to this crucial stretch is about as good as it gets.

“It shows a lot about our team,” senior Eric May said. “These last couple of games have been huge for us … we’ve stayed confident and stayed positive.

McCaffery’s squad was sluggish early on in the first half, leaving Carver-Hawkeye in silence when the scoreboard read 21-5 in favor of the Gophers. But Iowa would finish the half 29-8 run and head into the locker room with a 34-29 lead.

The Hawkeyes kept up the pace after the break, holding the Minnesota offense in check with a 2-3 zone and piling on the points via double digit games from Devyn Marble (15), Aaron White (15), Mike Gesell (11), and May (10).

This wasn’t just a signature win — it was a thrashing.

Iowa closes with three of the next five contests at home. Win all of those plus at Nebraska this Thursday, and there is a legitimate case for a tourney bid.

Heading into Sunday, the Hawkeyes had an RPI of 90, according to RealTimeRPI.com. Aside from Sunday’s win, victories against Iowa State and Wisconsin were also résumé boosters. If Iowa wins four of these next five, it will finish with a conference record of 10-8, likely well enough for the Big Dance.

Sunday was the tone setter.

“We’re playing well, we’re playing better,” McCaffery said. “This is the time of year when teams tend to tire and feel pressure. For us, we’ve got so many different players contributing.

“Everybody’s ready to go.”

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