Brown: Halfway home, Iowa looks for momentum against Maryland

Rick Brown

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Temptation got the best of Mike Gesell.

Playing with a hyperextended right elbow that makes shooting from behind the 3-point line problematic, Michigan defenders left Iowa's point guard wide open during one first-half possession Thursday.

"It was taking all my power not to shoot it," Gesell said. "I still shot it anyway. And bricked it."

That was about the only blemish Gesell had in the box score during the Hawkeyes' 72-54 victory at Crisler Center. He scored 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, added three rebounds and had three assists to a single turnover.

"I thought Mike played a great game," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "When he shot it, when he drove it, when he moved it on … his decision-making was spectacular."

Gesell was the floor general of an offense that shot 62.7 percent from the field, Iowa's highest mark in three seasons. All five starters scored in double figures, the first time a Hawkeye team has done that in Big Ten play since 2004. Iowa had just six turnovers, 16 assists on 32 field goals and a 33-17 rebounding advantage.

Gesell hopes to have complete range of motion Sunday, when Iowa starts the second half of its Big Ten season at home against No. 17 Maryland.

Now 5-4 in the Big Ten and 14-8 overall, the Hawkeyes need to protect their home court if they want to make the NCAA Tournament in March. Five of the last nine games are at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where Iowa was 2-2 in the first half of the league season compared to a 3-2 road record.

"Every team that you play (in the Big Ten) has great players and has the ability to beat you," McCaffery said. "And to go on the road and get a couple of wins, that's tremendous. But now we've got to protect our home court, which is not easy because of who is coming in."

Maryland, 7-3 in the Big Ten and 18-4 overall, is tied for second with Purdue. Iowa is sixth. Seven of the Hawkeyes' final nine games are against teams below them in the standings. Joining Maryland as the exception to that rule is Indiana, where Iowa plays on March 3.

The opportunity is there to reach double figures in Big Ten victories for the first time since the league went back to an 18-game schedule in 2007-08.

Iowa will reach that goal if it executes as well as it did against a Michigan team playing without two of its three leading scorers in Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. Neither played Sunday at Michigan State, either, when the Wolverines lost in overtime.

After the game, Michigan coach John Beilein made it a point to talk to Iowa's Aaron White. Beilein was a coach on the 2013 USA World University Games team for which White played.

"I just told him, 'You've got to understand you have a really good team,' " Beilein said of his conversation with Iowa's senior forward. " 'You can really have a great year. Just make sure your team sticks together.' "

Against Michigan, that wasn't a problem.

"Words can't describe the feeling you get when your team is playing that well," said Jarrod Uthoff, whose 16-point, nine-rebound game led his team in both categories.

Play that well again against Maryland on Sunday, and Uthoff will be able to describe that feeling in one word: momentum.

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