A blend of youth and experience led Iowa to a crucial overtime win against Michigan State Thursday.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tania Davis sat on the far left end of Iowa’s bench Thursday night. No crutches, but she carried a noticeable limp. Instead of a jersey, she donned a yellow Jordan shirt and gray sweats. She celebrated and high-fived, but not too hard.
This marked a start to a new season for Iowa, with two freshmen in Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer running the show and Davis, Iowa’s primary ball-handler, riding the pine with a torn ACL.
And in this new season, so far, so good. So great, actually.
Iowa outlasted Michigan State, 87-83, in overtime for an NCAA-Tournament-resume-boosting win. Ally Disterhoft notched a 25-point, 12-board double-double. But the freshmen, who now assume a much greater role with Davis out, stepped up, too.
Meyer hit 11 of 12 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter and extra period and scored a career-high 14. Doyle and Bre Cera held scoring monster Tori Jankoska to six points through three quarters. Cera earned the start, opened overtime with a big 3-pointer and netted a career-high eight points. And all this came with Megan Gustafson in early foul trouble.
"I'm really proud. This freshman class is really talented — it bodes well for the future, but I don't want to look to the future," Bluder said. "I don't want to. (We’re worried about) Sunday, and just keep building their confidence, because they are so good. And just let them keep making some freshmen mistakes and not getting too wigged out about it, but just trying to enjoy the opportunity to be out there with them every day in practice because they come every day wanting to get better in practice, and that's exactly what you have to do."
The Doyle-Meyer-led offense had its expected kinks in the first go-round; they combined for six assists and seven turnovers. But it’s hard to say an offense that shot 44 percent overall and from 3-point range didn’t perform well.
And only one of those turnovers came in overtime.
"I thought it flowed really, really well," Bluder said of the offense. "We kind of run an offense and not so many sets, and I think that was beneficial today because they do the same things no matter what position they’re playing. And I think not having to learn everything real quick, especially for Makenzie — she hasn’t played point guard in a long time and she had to play some tonight, so really she did a great job with that.
"It does give us confidence that we can win without Tania. We hate it, we don't want it, but we can do it."
Iowa outscored Michigan State, 18-14, in overtime. All three freshmen played the extra five minutes with Disterhoft and Gustafson.
Chase Coley also played 29 big minutes, collecting 10 points and five rebounds off the bench. She actually logged more time than Cera (22) and was on the floor for the bulk of the fourth quarter. It seems Bluder could cycle between those two for the starting job, depending on whether she wants to go big or small.
So remember how Iowa held Jankoska, the Big Ten’s No. 2 scorer, to six points through three periods?
Well, she finished with 32. She scored all 14 Spartans points in overtime and 12 in the fourth, including two impossible 3-pointers to send the game into overtime at 69-all.
Cera started the game on Jankoska before Doyle took primary guarding duties as the game wore on. You’ve got to count that matchup as a win for Iowa’s two freshmen, despite Jankoska’s 32-spot. She was 3-for-10 through three before transforming into a video game player.
Doyle couldn't have guarded Jankoska's game-tying, fadeaway 28-footer any better than she did.
"Great players are going to make huge shots and she did that for them," Doyle said.
"But we won."
A tiny smirk may or may not have accompanied that last quote.
Iowa’s RPI jumped up to 46 following the win, while Michigan State’s dropped to 51. The Hawkeyes now boast the fourth-best RPI in the Big Ten.
"It's tremendous. For one thing, we only play Michigan State once, and any head-to-head ties or anything like that; this is a very meaningful win," Bluder said. "Puts us tied with them right now in the conference. It keeps us just in contention for doing something in postseason, and that's really big."
At 6-5, Iowa is tied for fifth in conference with Indiana, Purdue and Michigan State. Northwestern (6-4) sits a half a game above those four for fourth place. Iowa travels to second-place Ohio State on Sunday before hosting Northwestern next Thursday.