Brown: Last seconds finally lend Iowa new lease on life

Rick Brown

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery finally saw a true buzzer-beater situation go the way of his Hawkeyes on Tuesday, even though his defense “got a little soft” after halftime at Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS – Crunch time has not been kind to Iowa's basketball team in recent seasons.

Heading into Tuesday's game against Minnesota at Williams Arena, a Hawkeye team hadn't pulled a game out in the final seconds since 2008, when Cyrus Tate beat Kansas State in the Las Vegas Invitational.

That streak ended with 3.5 seconds to play Tuesday, when Jarrod Uthoff's 17-footer gave Iowa a 77-75 victory.

"We just called a play, they ran it and scored," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after his team improved to 3-1 in the Big Ten and 12-5 overall.

The name of the play? I asked McCaffery that as he got in an elevator following his postgame media session. He smiled at me.

"I'm not going to tell you," he said.

Uthoff's basket was the winner, but not the final play. Iowa broke down defensively as the Gophers' DeAndre Mathieu raced down the floor and looked to tie the score at the buzzer. Replays showed the release came after time expired.

The clock had shown 6.1 seconds remained after Uthoff scored, which was impossible when you consider that the shot clock and game clock were only a few seconds apart when Iowa rebounded the ball on its last possession.

"I graduated from the Wharton School of Business, and I can add," McCaffery said. "I knew 6.1 wasn't the right number."

The officials got it right after huddling at the scorer's table and watching a replay. Had it been 3.7 seconds instead of 3.5, this game would have gone to overtime. Again, officials huddled. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said he thought the shot had been released late. McCaffery wasn't sure. The officials were, and Iowa improved to 3-0 in true road games this season. North Carolina, Ohio State, and now Minnesota.

Iowa had a 17-point lead with 16 minutes to play, and predicting last second drama at that point would have seemed foolish. Minnesota, a fragile team starting the night with a 0-4 Big Ten record, had every reason to cash it in. Instead, it almost made Iowa pay.

It seemed like the Gophers scored every time they had the ball. Because they did. After facing that 17-point hole, Minnesota scored on 15 of its next 17 possessions in a 20-point swing.

"Our defense got a little soft," McCaffery said.

Second-half swoons have happened to this team before. Like Michigan State in the last game Thursday, when an 11-point halftime lead turned into a 75-61 loss.

Iowa again led by 11 at halftime. Unlike the Michigan State game, the Hawkeyes built that lead to 17 before all hell seemed to break loose.

That lead turned into a 73-69 deficit with 3:11 remaining. But Uthoff came through in the clutch, like he did at Ohio State. And after some last-second drama, which included officials watching a replay of the game's final second, Iowa escaped Williams Arena with a victory.

And a new lease on last-second life.

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