The second half was just about to start when Iowa freshman Aaron White walked up to senior Matt Gatens and said something. Gatens responded with a determined look and a fist pump.
“This isn’t the last game I wanted to play with him,” White said. “I let him know that, and let him know I was going to fight for him and for all these guys.”
White then scored 11 of Iowa’s first 12 second-half points and finished with a career-high 25 as the Hawkeyes defeated Dayton, 84-75, in a first-round National Invitation Tournament game Tuesday before a boisterous Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd of 13,190. The forward from Strongsville, Ohio, also had 11 rebounds, one shy of his career high.
Iowa moves on to play No. 3 seed Oregon at 4 p.m. Sunday in Eugene. The game will be shown on ESPNU. Tuesday was the Hawkeyes’ first postseason win since an NIT triumph at Iowa State in 2003. Now 18-16, the victory also means Iowa will finish with a winning mark for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Gatens made just two-of-nine shots from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers in six tries. His last one, with 3 minutes 13 seconds to play, finished off Dayton (20-13) for good. Gatens, who had scored in double figures in the last 16 games, was limited to seven points.
But it was obvious that many in the crowd came to say their goodbyes, if this was indeed Gatens’ final home game. He got a loud ovation when he was introduced in the starting lineup, and a standing ovation when coach Fran McCaffery took him out of the game in the final seconds.
“Its been an incredible four years,” said Gatens, who did a 360-degree wave to the fans as he walked off the floor. “If this is indeed the last one, it’s a great way to go out.”
White was just one player who picked up the offense in Gatens’ absence. Sophomore forward Zach McCabe matched his career high with 20 points, going a perfect nine-for-nine from the field. He also had eight rebounds. McCabe missed a chance to establish a new career high when he missed a free throw with 6:10 remaining.
“I wish I had made that free throw,” McCabe said. “I was just trying to be aggressive. Thankfully I made all my baskets.”
Senior Bryce Cartwright finished with a career-high 11 assists to two turnovers. Sophomore forward Melsahn Basabe finished with 15 points, his biggest offensive game since scoring 18 at Iowa State on Dec. 9. Basabe and White both scored nine points in a pivotal 22-7 run that turned a 49-49 tie into a 71-56 lead.
The Flyers, getting 23 points from Kevin Dillard, went over 8 minutes without a field goal in Iowa’s game-deciding run. The Hawkeyes, energized by the crowd from start to finish, never let Dayton back in the game.
Dayton coach Archie Miller said Iowa had his team on its heels from the start. The Hawkeyes’ 56.6 percent shooting from the field, and the crowd, were too much to overcome.
“Probably the toughest venue we have been in all season long other than maybe Xavier on the road,” Miller said. “We were coming into a bee’s nest.”
After it was over, Gatens walked off the court with his arm around White’s shoulders.
“He was just really happy, you know, really proud to get the first postseason win in a while,” White said. “He was just thanking me for how hard I played, and he said we’re going to get another one.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball