IOWA CITY — Never a doubt?Not in Aaron White’s mind.
“The funny thing is we were down 21-5 but everybody on our team believed we were going to win the game,” White said.
Never a doubt? Not in Mike Gesell’s mind.
“It seems like we’ve been in that same situation every game since the Big Ten started,” Gesell said. “We just kept believing.”
The only one who couldn’t believe what he was seeing Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who watched the Hawkeyes overcome a 16-point deficit eight minutes into the game and hand the Golden Gophers a humbling 72-51 setback.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen such a dramatic turnaround in such a short amount of time of any team that I have coached,” Smith said. “It is about as disappointing of a loss that I’ve had, the way we reacted to the zone and the press. … I’m disappointed, embarrassed. It was like we had never seen a zone be-fore.”
The game turned after Minnesota had hit six of its first nine shots, bolting to an early lead which van-ished under an avalanche of mistakes and missed shots over the final 12 minutes of the first half.
Iowa slapped a press and a 2-3 zone defense on the Golden Gophers, changing both the tempo and the complexion of the game.
Minnesota, which used 14 early points from Trevor Mbakwe and Austin Hollins to open its 21-5 lead, hit just three of its final 13 shots in the half and recorded nine of its 17 turnovers as the Hawkeyes went on a 29-8 run to take a 34-29 lead into the locker room at the break.
“With the press, we got them to play east-west instead of north-south,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They were using clock. We got a lead. They were really tentative.”
Or, as Smith put it, “They slowed us down. They made us think, made us take more time off of the shot clock and then we would rush a bad shot at the end. We talked at the half about getting the ball inside more. We didn’t finish.”
The rally began when Zach McCabe banked in a 3-point basket as the shot clock expired with 12 min-utes, 22 seconds remaining in the opening half.
Minnesota then watched Devyn Marble and White aggressively attack the rim repeatedly, leading to an onslaught which continued well into the second half.
“We had to stay aggressive, keep attacking,” White said.
Meanwhile, Minnesota (18-8, 6-7 Big Ten) collected 10 only points from the 12:57 mark of the first half until an Mbawke dunk with 12:55 left in the game cut into a 42-31 Hawkeye lead.
“We knew we could get back into the game. We just had to close it out,” said Marble, who along with White finished with 15 points apiece to lead five Hawkeyes in double figures. “We knew we were going to go zone against them at some point. We did it a little earlier than maybe we thought we might, but it worked out for us.”
Iowa (17-9, 6-7) never let up. The Hawkeye lead reached 53-37 when Eric May buried a 3-point basket with 8:50 remaining.
“We stuck with it, kept pushing it on both ends,” said May, who finished with 10 points and led Iowa with seven rebounds. “We weren’t going to let this one get away.”
Never a doubt.
*The Hawkeyes have won their last three Big Ten games, something which hasn’t happened since the middle of the 2007 conference season when Iowa won at Michigan and Minnesota in addition to beating Indiana at home.
* Minnesota played the entire second half without its second-leading rebounder. Rodney Williams was limited to 10 minutes and one rebound after aggravating a shoulder injury which sidelined him during a loss to Illinois on Feb. 10.
* Kyle Meyer, a Hawkeye freshman who is redshirting this season, is currently on crutches with his right foot in a walking boot. He said he suffered a severe ankle sprain.
* Three of Iowa’s final five regular season games are against teams the Hawkeyes have yet to face in Big Ten play, beginning with an 8 p.m. game Thursday at Nebraska.