Brown: Mike Gesell lifts Hawkeyes to a signature win

Rick Brown
Iowa Hawkeyes guard Mike Gesell (10) celebrates with center Adam Woodbury (34) and forward Jarrod Uthoff (20) after scoring late in the second half. Iowa defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 60-55 at Dean E. Smith Center.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – One second remained on the Smith Center clock when Iowa's Mike Gesell went to the free-throw line for two shots and his team ready to put their John Hancock on a big victory.

The Hawkeyes' lead was three points. Miss them both, and No. 12 North Carolina had one last shot at a miracle finish. Make one and Iowa would leave with a resume-building upset.

It's only fitting that on a night when offense was a struggle for both teams, the junior point guard's first attempt hit the back of the iron, popped straight into the air and fell through. Hardly a thing of beauty. But it was Iowa's most gorgeous point of the game.

"Once that went in, there was sign of relief," said Gesell, who played huge down the stretch as the Hawkeyes knocked off North Carolina, 60-55, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Wednesday.

"It was great to see them jumping around in the locker room," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

"We needed that."

Gesell's conventional three-point play with 1 minute, 16 seconds remaining broke a tie and gave the Hawkeyes, 6-2, a lead they would never relinquish.

"I felt I could get all the way to the rim, and a shotblocker was coming, so I knew I had to put it high off the glass," Gesell said. "I was able to sneak it in there."

North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige, a preseason first-team all-American from Marion, Ia., tried to counter Gesell's three-point play but Anthony Clemmons drew a charge with :50 left. Paige got a second chance to tie with a 3-pointer in the final :05, but missed.

Gesell, Paige and Iowa center Adam Woodbury were AAU teammates growing up. Gesell finished with a game-high 16 points. Woodbury had 11 points and seven rebounds. Paige was just 4-of-16 from the field and scored 13 in this high-level reunion.

"I think this is great for Mike," Woodbury said. "He played really well in AAU, and for him to be compared to Marcus was unfair. I think he showed (Wednesday) that he's his own player."

Gesell considers Paige a brother, a bond from their AAU days.

"Every time I step into a competition against him, I want to beat him," Gesell said.

McCaffery was expecting Paige to be the man with the ball in his hands at the end, and he was.

"He's such an incredible late-game player," McCaffery said. "He can take the game over all by himself. We didn't want him to be the guy."

Gesell, who had scored a total of one point in Iowa's previous two games, got the Hawkeyes off to a quick start with seven of their first 14 points. Then his final five points got Iowa over the hump in a close game, which has been an issue with this team.

"It has been hanging over our head," said Iowa's Aaron White, who didn't make a field goal all night but was a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line. "But we didn't waiver from the game plan. We had faith in one another."

Iowa got out-rebounded in the first half, 26-15. The Tar Heels had a 15-1 edge in offensive rebounds and an 11-0 edge in second-chance points. Iowa reversed that with a 27-20 edge on the glass, including 16 offensive rebounds to nine for North Carolina. Iowa outscored the Tar Heels in second-chance points the final half, 12-5.

Jarrod Uthoff had eight of his 11 rebounds in the second half on a night when he was just 2-of-13 from the field.

"I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn," Uthoff said. "But rebounding was the key in the second half."

Rebounding and defense got Iowa a victory it needed after opportunities against Texas and Syracuse slipped away last month in New York City.

"This is huge for us," Gesell said.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown