MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Iowa freshman Mike Gesell dropped to his knees after his last-second 3-point attempt hit the front of the rim and bounced away at the buzzer.
"I actually thought it was in," Gesell said after his Hawkeyes slumped to 3-6 in Big Ten play after a painful 62-59 loss at No. 23 Minnesota on Sunday.
Iowa sophomore Aaron White pulled his jersey over his mouth and shouted as he stood in line to congratulate the Gophers. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery admits he was "pretty upset" after the game. Iowa players Zach McCabe and Eric May mixed anguish with anger in their postgame comments.
It was yet another near-miss for the Hawkeyes with a strikingly similar tone to many other Big Ten defeats. Iowa trailed Minnesota by 12 early in the first half, only to rally and take leads throughout much of the second half before falling at the end. That's just like a road loss at Purdue.
Iowa (14-8, 3-6 Big Ten) led by four points with 2:10 left to play, just as the Hawkeyes did against Michigan State four weeks ago. And, just like that night at home, Iowa on Sunday squandered away late possessions with turnovers and lost by three points.
"We obviously blew an opportunity today," McCaffery said. "We had opportunities at the line, we had opportunities on the break. We didn't execute again. We kept fighting; that's the good thing. When you miss free throws and don't execute, it's hard."
The Hawkeyes sank 10 of 17 free-throw attempts and shot just 36.2 percent from the floor. Leading scorer Devyn Marble was scoreless, ineffective and played just 17 minutes. But the Hawkeyes had every opportunity to win, and yet they clutched their fourth Big Ten loss by four points or less.
Iowa trailed 14-2 in the game's first five minutes, then clawed back to take its first lead at 32-30 with 17:38 left in the game. The teams battled early in the second half, trading leads three different times. Iowa then took command and led by four points with 2:10 left in the game when May drove to the basket for a layup and was fouled by Joe Coleman. May completed the three-point play and Iowa led 59-55.
The Gophers (17-5, 5-4 Big Ten) then finished on a 7-0 run. Coleman rallied to cut to the lead to two points on a basket with 1:45 left. After Gesell missed a shot, Coleman passed backward toward Andre Hollins, and the ball went over the half-court line, resulting in a back-court violation with 1:04 left in the game. Iowa had the ball and a two-point lead. Then the game slipped away.
With 36.6 seconds left, Marble passed toward Gesell, but the ball sailed out of bounds. Minnesota took advantage of Marble's mistake when Austin Hollins drilled a 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left against Iowa's zone. The Gophers took their first lead in more than 13 minutes, and Iowa called timeout.
"The disappointing thing from our side is we have got to get up in his face," McCaffery said. "He's their best 3-point shooter, and he shoots a 3. That's disappointing. If he makes a drive, it's a tie game. You can't give up a 3 there."
Iowa stormed the length of the court and Gesell lined up left of the basket. Austin Hollins then stripped Gesell, and the ball went out of bounds as Gesell tried to corral it. Minnesota was awarded possession, and Andre Hollins sank two free throws to provide the final margin before Gesell's final 3-point attempt.
Chalk up another defeat for Iowa in a season filled with gut-wrenching losses. This one, however, may have been the most excruciating.
"It's very frustrating," Gesell said. "We feel like we should have won all of those games, and they're all against very good teams."
"We fully expected to win that game," May said. "That's how we come into games, expecting to win.
"We're a really good team, and we've got to play like it."