Gesell's final dunk helps Iowa flush adversity, beat Drake

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff celebrates with teammate Mike Gesell during their Big Four Classic game at the Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday, December 19, 2015 in Des Moines.

With a dribble-drive and elevation to the rim, Iowa point guard Mike Gesell threw down a right-handed dunk -- and in the process flushed the question of whether the Hawkeyes can finish.

Gesell’s throwdown with 30 seconds left Saturday were the final points in Iowa’s 70-64 win over pesky Drake in the Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.

No Iowa player needs to be reminded about what happened nine days earlier -- a blown eight-point lead in less than 2 minutes in an 83-82 loss at then-No. 4 Iowa State. And now maybe they won’t have to be.

“Very important,” Gesell said. “You learn from it. The Iowa State one hurt, but I think we learned from it. We did a much better job down the stretch.”

Gesell was the ring leader of the Hawkeyes’ triumph in downtown Des Moines. He shot 7-of-8 from the floor for a team-high 17 points, but more importantly was what he told his teammates after Drake closed to within 66-64 on Ore Arogundade’s 3-pointer with 1:37 to play.

“He told us, 'Let’s get three stops,'” guard Anthony Clemmons said. “'We’re going to win this game; let’s get three stops.'”

Iowa did exactly that, shutting out Drake on its final three possessions. After Jarrod Uthoff’s left-handed scoop lay-in made it 68-64 with 1:05 left, the Hawkeyes bothered Reed Timmer (game-high 25 points) into a missed layup. Then 6-foot-3 Gesell blew past 6-8 Kale Abrahamson for the emphatic finishing blow.

It was fitting that Gesell, who struggled late against the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum with a pair of late misses, had the final say.

“That’s the thing you love about (Gesell): He’s just going to keep coming,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He feels terrible about the game the other night, like a lot of people do. He’s just going to come back and go to work.”

That’s what this was for Iowa, a move-on moment from the Hilton Coliseum meltdown. Imagine if it had gone the other way. Now the Hawkeyes are a home win Tuesday against Tennessee Tech away from a solid 9-3 finish in pre-Big Ten Conference play.

No, the Hawkeyes didn’t play great Saturday. But Drake played very well, and even though Iowa committed only three turnovers, the Bulldogs stayed close by hitting 11-of-26 3-pointers.

“We didn’t play perfect basketball. Actually, we didn’t play OK basketball,” Clemmons said. “But you’ve got to give that team credit, they came in ready.”

And then there’s this stat: Iowa recorded a school-record 14 blocked shots, including six by walk-on Nicholas Baer. The walk-on from Bettendorf had the best game of his young career with 13 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes. He got career-high run with Iowa’s star player in foul trouble.

Uthoff picked up his second foul less than 5 minutes into the game and didn’t play again in the first half.

He got his third just over a minute into the second half. Back to the bench for a guy averaging 1.3 fouls a game.

“Real frustrating,” Uthoff said. “But we battled as a team and came out with the win.”

Assistant coach Kirk Speraw urged McCaffery to re-insert Uthoff in the first half.

“Kirk Speraw says the same thing to me every time,” McCaffery said. “And every time, I say, yeah you’re probably right -- and then I don’t put him back in.

“I didn’t want Jarrod to play in the second half without any ability to be aggressive. As long as the game didn’t get away from us … And obviously he was a factor down the stretch.”

Once Uthoff got permission to play with three fouls with 14:47 to go, the Hawkeyes turned a 42-38 deficit into a 58-47 lead. He scored seven seconds after he came onto the court. His final line: 21 minutes, 10 points (nine below his average) with five blocked shots.

“I don’t know how many guys block five shots in foul trouble,” McCaffery said.

And even though the Bulldogs fought back by scoring seven times on eight possessions to cut it to two, Iowa delivered a finishing message to itself.

“Over the course of 35 or however many games you play, each game is a learning experience,” Uthoff said. “You get better and better as the year progresses. And I think that was one of the learning experiences, to finish close games this game.”