Indianapolis, Ind. – Iowa’s basketball team was clinging to hope, and not much else. And then a senior stepped up.
Down seven points with 14 minutes to play, Matt Gatens made a 3-pointer, then a steal and dunk.
Those 18 seconds ignited an 18-4 run and carried the Hawkeyes to a 64-61 victory over Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We were playing for our lives,” Gatens said of a victory that came down to D.J. Richardson’s missed 3-pointer, over the reach of Iowa’s Devyn Marble, in the final seconds.
Iowa’s string of five straight one-and-done appearances in the Big Ten Tournament was snapped.
Iowa, 17-15, meets top-seeded Michigan State (24-7) at 11 a.m. Friday.
“Feels good to get past the first day, but you have to get over that and go get the next one now,” Gatens said.
Improved rebounding and defense were also important parts in this victory. Iowa also kept Illinois off the free-throw line — literally, as the Illini failed to record a single attempt.
Gatens’ momentum-changing, back-to-back plays, however, were at the top of his coach’s list.
“That was the pivotal piece,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Seven (-point leads) can go 11 quick, or it can go to one or two. And that changes everything for the rest of the game.”
Illinois coach Bruce Weber thought so, too.
“At that point in the game you can go one way or another, and they made the plays,” Weber said.
Iowa didn’t make a field goal the final 9 minutes, 42 seconds. Both Marble and Aaron White, who scored 13 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, missed one-and-ones in the last :41.2.
But White’s rebound of Marble’s miss led to two Gatens free throws to put Iowa up, 62-56, with :37.6 remaining.
“Once it came off his hand, I tried to step in as quickly as possible,” White said. “I tapped it to myself with my right hand and got it out to our best free-throw shooter.”
White’s miss came at :27.2, and Joseph Bertrand’s 3-pointer cut Iowa’s lead to 62-61 with :16 left.
Bryce Cartwright, who finished with seven assists to two turnovers, got the ball to Gatens on the in-bounds pass. Six seconds melted off the clock before Bertrand could catch a dribbling Gatens at the other end of the floor.
“You expect to get fouled right away,” Gatens said. “They tried to trap, and I split it. At that point I wanted to get up the court and waste as much time as I could.”
Gatens made both shots in the double-bonus situation. Richardson, who made a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half over Marble to give the Illini a 31-27 lead, tried to duplicate the effort at the end of the game.
“I put my hand up, I wasn’t going to foul him,” Marble said. “I was going to make him make a tough shot.”
Illinois center Meyers Leonard led the Illini, which lost for the ninth time in 10 games, with 18 points. But he didn’t score in the final 10:16.
Melsahn Basabe registered Iowa’s only offensive rebound the first half. The other was a team rebound. The Hawkeyes had 14 offensive rebounds the second half, however.
Nine different players recorded at least one offensive rebound, after assistant coach Kirk Speraw’s dressing-down of the team at halftime.
“Coach Speraw was just yelling at us, ‘You’ve got to get your (rears) in there and rebound,’ ” said Zach McCabe, who finished with a pair of offensive rebounds among his six in the game.
The Hawkeyes responded to the challenge, and lived to play another day.
“I don’t want to go home,” Gatens said. “I want to keep playing.”
GET READY TO TALK MARCH MADNESS
Sunday: Men’s basketball reporter Rick Brown will be online from about 5 to 6:30 p.m. to chat about the brackets.
Monday: At 12:30 p.m., Rick Brown, Iowa State men’s reporter Randy Peterson and columnist Marc Hansen will talk men’s basketball. Then, Former Associated Press women’s basketball writer Chuck Schoffner will be on about 6 to 7 p.m. to chat about the women’s brackets.
Tuesday: At noon, women’s college basketball reporter Andrew Logue and sports editor Ryan Suchomel will join Schoffner to talk women’s picks, local regionals and more.
WHO: Iowa (17-15, No. 8 seed) vs. Michigan State (24-7, No. 1 seed)
WHERE: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
TIPOFF: 11 a.m.
RADIO: WHO-AM (1040), Des Moines and Hawkeye Radio Network.
STAT LEADERS: For Iowa — Matt Gatens 15.9 ppg, Aaron White 5.5 rpg, Bryce Cartwright 4.4 apg; For Michigan State — Draymond Green 16.2 ppg, Green 10.3 rpg, Keith Appling 3.8 apg.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Gatens is tied for sixth with Jess Settles on Iowa’s career scoring list with 1,611 points.
ABOUT THE SPARTANS: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, the Big Ten’s 2012 coach of the year, is 23-9 in his career against Iowa.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Hawkeyes got crushed at Michigan State, 95-61, on Jan. 10. Iowa turned it over 21 times and got outscored in points after turnovers, 33-9. The Spartans also had a 22-6 edge in fast-break points.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball