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Hallelujah! Hawks exorcise postseason demons

[ 2 ] March 13, 2012 |

There wasn’t any holy water or a crucifix, but Tuesday night was every bit of an exorcism for the Iowa basketball program.

“I think people have been waiting for this a long time,” Iowa sophomore Zach McCabe said. “I know I have as a fan. One of the reasons I came here was to get back in the postseason.”

Iowa beat Dayton 84-75 in a first-round NIT game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was the Hawkeyes’ first postseason win in nine years.

“It’s big,” Iowa senior Matt Gatens said. “Not only just make the NIT but to get a win.”

Sure, it’s just the NIT, aka the Not Invited Tournament.

But Iowa didn’t feel or look second-rate Tuesday.

“Almost the opposite with us,” said freshman Aaron White, who had a career-high 25 points. “We were just ecstatic to get this opportunity.”

After all, the modern era (1999-present) of Hawkeye men’s basketball has been filled with unmet expectations, bad feelings and fan apathy.

The 13,190 fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday were far from apathetic.

“As this year went on, the attendance just kept growing,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said. “Tonight it was like the lid blew off.”

They wanted to feel good about Iowa basketball again. They needed to.

“I’ve been here before when Carver-Hawkeye was loud and rocking, back when I wasn’t working here and came here as a fan,” Barta said. “That’s certainly where we want it again.”

The low points of the past decade have been well documented.

The 10 worst-attended seasons in Carver-Hawkeye history, reaching a low of 9,550 in 2009-10, when tumbleweeds often rolled past the pom squad.

Four straight losing seasons for the first time in the 110-year history of the program. (Which ended Tuesday.)

No postseason wins for seven straight seasons — 2004 to 2011. (Which ended Tuesday.)

Tens of thousands of Iowans grew up without much to root for on the hardcourt.

“I really watched the Iowa teams with Recker and Evans … Horner,” freshman Josh Oglesby said. “I idolized those kids.

“But that was awhile back. Throughout my whole high school career, they were not too successful.”

On Tuesday, every dunk was a laying on of hands, every 3-pointer a splash of holy water and every ear-splitting crowd roar was a prayer.

“As a kid, I came and this place was filled all the time,” McCabe said. “I’ve never experienced how loud this stadium is like that. It’s unbelievable how loud they were.”

Barta said he talked to several fans coming back to Carver-Hawkeye for the first time. They got caught up with the idea of March Madness again.

“I knew we could get this place rocking,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I’ve seen it enough. These fans want to embrace Hawkeye basketball.”

Hallelujah!

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Ryan Suchomel: Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com. View author profile.

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