Eric May will forever cherish the memories of playing in front of the fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
He just hopes they stay memories.
“Exactly,” May said after Saturday’s 74-60 victory over Nebraska in the regular-season finale that earned Iowa its first 20-win season since the 2005-06 campaign. “It’s kind of interesting to think that way, but we don’t want to come back here again.
“We want to be playing at a neutral site.”
By neutral site, May means playing in the NCAA Tournament, which has eluded Iowa since the 2005-06 season.
Saturday’s victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena helped Iowa’s cause, but it’s widely thought that May and his cohorts still have work to do in the Big Ten Tournament.
Iowa, with records of 20-11 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten, will be seeded sixth in the Big Ten Tournament and will face No. 11 seed Northwestern in the first round Thursday at the United Center in Chicago. Iowa won both games against Northwestern during the regular season by scores of 70-50 on Jan. 13 in Evanston, Ill., and 71-57 on Feb. 9 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who won his 300th career game Saturday, believes his team deserves consideration for the NCAA Tournament based on its current resume. Iowa has won six of its last eight games, including three of the last four without injured starting point guard Mike Gesell.
“I think we deserve tremendous consideration,” McCaffery said. “I definitely feel like we’re one of the best 68 teams.”
Iowa would seem to be a lock to the make the National Invitation Tournament for the second consecutive season. That could mean the opportunity to host one or two games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but May has bigger aspirations for his senior season, including making a statement in Chicago next week.
“Winning two (games at the Big Ten Tournament) would be a lot more comfortable than just one,” said May, who is Iowa’s lone senior on scholarship this season. “But you know what, we’re in it to win it all.
“That’s what coach said: the easiest way to get a bid is just win the whole tournament, win four games in four days. And that’s the task we have ahead of us.”
Iowa has traveled that path before to a Big Ten Tournament title, winning four games in four days in 2001.
The task for Iowa on Saturday was to defeat a Nebraska team that overcame a 16-point halftime deficit to nip Iowa 64-60 on Feb. 21 in Lincoln, Neb.
Sending May out with a victory on Senior Day was another part of the mission. May received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 15,400 when his name was introduced during the pre-game ceremony.
“I think at the end of the game is when it really sunk in, the last time you hear the crowd in Carver cheering for you,” May said. “I’m really going to miss that feeling.”
Iowa bolted to a 10-1 lead, expanded the lead to 19 points in the second half and never trailed during the game.
“Eric May is a cool guy who’s been in my ear all year, in all the freshmen’s ears and in everybody’s ear all (season),” said freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons, who came off the bench to score 11 points Saturday. “So it’s really good that we got this win for him.”
Nebraska used an 11-3 scoring run to trim the deficit to 46-44 early in the second half. Iowa then answered with a 17-0 scoring run to seize the momentum. The Hawkeyes led by double figures for the rest of the game.
“We were really pathetic up until that point on defense,” said May, who led Iowa with six assists to go along with six rebounds. “They scored, like, on six possessions in a row, and we knew that was unacceptable. We challenged each other and we rose to that.”
Sophomore forward Aaron White led four Iowa players in double figures Saturday with 19 points. Junior guard Devyn Marble was held to just six points, but it was enough to make him the 41st player in school history to score 1,000 points in a career.
Marble and his father, Roy Marble, are also the only father-son duo in Big Ten history to score 1,000 points in a career. Roy Marble played at Iowa from 1985-89 and is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,116 points.
Iowa outscored Nebraska 38-20 in the paint Saturday. Iowa’s starting front line of White, junior forward Melsahn Basabe and freshman center Adam Woodbury shot a combined 16-for-20 from the field. Reserves Zach McCabe and Gabe Olaseni also combined to make 4-of-5 shots from the field, making Iowa’s front-line players a combined 20-of-25 from the field.
“I’m getting more comfortable every night out and I think it’s showing,” said Woodbury, who made all six of his field-goal attempts Saturday. “It was fun out there. I got some good looks and capitalized on them.”
Iowa also had a 39-22 advantage on the boards, thanks largely to Basabe, who finished with 13 rebounds and 11 points in 21 minutes of playing time.
“I think everybody in the program, the fans, everybody takes part in this,” Basabe said of the rise of the Iowa program, which has increased its victory total in each of his three seasons on the team. “But the job is not done. We’ve still got a lot of basketball left.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or email@example.com.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball