Bakari Evelyn sinks two clutch free throws as No. 17 Iowa rallies to win at Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — After 38 minutes and 45 seconds of basketball that left players sore and fans sour Sunday, the outcome was in the hands of Iowa’s Bakari Evelyn.
Evelyn is a senior who transferred from Valparaiso last spring in order to test himself against the big boys in the Big Ten Conference. But he had attempted only 19 free throws this season before stepping to the line with the score tied and 1:15 remaining.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino turned to the capacity crowd of 14,625 at Williams Arena and waved them to their feet. He asked for noise, and he got it.
Evelyn didn’t hear it. He sat the fans back down after calmly swishing both free throws to give the Hawkeyes the lead for good in an improbable 58-55 win.
“It was so loud, everybody kind of canceled each other out,” Evelyn said after the two biggest points of his Hawkeye career.
No. 17 Iowa (18-8, 9-6 Big Ten) closed the game on an 11-0 run to pull out its second conference road win this winter.
The Hawkeyes did it with shooting guard CJ Fredrick forced to watch with an ankle injury. They did it with star center Luka Garza sitting for the final 3.3 seconds after fouling out. They did it despite a season-low point total.
They did it because, when the outcome was hanging in the air, the Hawkeyes were the more poised team.
“I feel like every road win in the Big Ten is kind of a statement,” Iowa guard Connor McCaffery said. “Our defense on the road hasn’t been good enough, and (Sunday) it was.”
Minnesota made only 21 of 59 shots (35.6%). But the Gophers (12-12, 6-8) had finally seemed to put Iowa away when they scored eight points in a 45-second span to take a 55-47 lead. There was 5:25 remaining.
The Gophers never scored again. They turned the ball over five times. They missed two field goals and a free throw. They may have seen their NCAA Tournament chances disappear.
Iowa snapped a three-game road losing streak, all of the setbacks by 10 points or more. The Hawkeyes moved into a tie for third place in the Big Ten standings.
“I think it was a belief in the huddle within this team, that we’re going to win this game,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery observed. “If you get down eight on the road with 5 minutes left, you can’t panic.
“We were a confident group.”
Iowa’s rally started with a pair of free throws from Connor McCaffery. Then Garza muscled in for a layup.
Garza missed an open 3-pointer with 3:03 left, a shot that went in and out of the cylinder and left him angrily shaking his head as he backpedaled downcourt.
During the ensuing timeout, Fran McCaffery drew up a play to get Garza another good look from the arc. He drained that one for the last of his 24 points. Minnesota’s lead was down to 55-54.
“I knew I was going to hit it just because of the trust and confidence in me,” Garza said.
Ryan Kriener made one of two free throws to pull Iowa even, and then Evelyn found himself in the spotlight.
Connor McCaffery had pulled Evelyn aside with Iowa trailing 37-33 and 15:49 remaining. The Hawkeyes were in the midst of a stretch in which they'd missed eight of nine. McCaffery told the senior they were going to need some production out of him in order to rally to victory.
Evelyn was averaging 2.6 points per game. He was making just 26.1% of his 3-point attempts. But he made a big one to pull Iowa within 41-38.
With the score tied 55-55, he goaded Minnesota’s Payton Willis into a foul in the lane just before the shot clock went off. Iowa had already lost two possessions to shot-clock violations. Evelyn turned this near-disaster into the winning two points.
“A savvy play to get fouled in that situation,” Fran McCaffery said.
There was drama left, of course.
With 6 seconds left, Kriener sprinted to the top of the key to deflect a 3-point attempt by Minnesota’s Marcus Carr. The ball came down in the lane, about five feet from the rim. Garza and Gophers center Daniel Oturu both jumped to try to bring it down, but Garza was behind Oturu and got called for a foul that left him exasperated.
It was his fifth, the first time this season the Big Ten’s leading scorer had fouled out of a game.
Garza tugged at his shirt and retreated to the bench. Oturu had a chance to tie the score from the free-throw line. But he missed his first shot. Connor McCaffery rebounded it and made one of his two free throws with 2.9 seconds left and the Gophers out of timeouts and hope.
“That was a tough call. I feel like we both went straight up for the ball,” said Garza, who added that watching the ending from the bench was “nerve-wracking.” “I wanted to be out there, because if he were able to hit the free throws, there would have been overtime. That’s what I was worried about.”
Evelyn hit his free throws. Oturu did not.
What did Connor McCaffery tell Evelyn during that second-half timeout?
“We’ve got so step up, get some stops. Be aggressive,” Evelyn recalled. “Do anything I can offensively, defensively to get this win. We needed this win.”
They got the win.
Iowa next hosts Ohio State on Thursday.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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