IOWA CITY, Iowa They stepped on their biggest stage to date, and it was big. It was damn big. But it wasn't too big for them.
Iowa's freshman trio of Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury felt the energy of a near-packed house for their cross-state rival and didn't shirk from it. They embraced the challenge, and they responded.
Clemmons directed traffic with eight assists and only one turnover. Woodbury battled against one of the nation's best rebounding squads. Gesell shook off a shooting slump and produced in multiple ways. The freshmen led, and Iowa beat Iowa State 80-71 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last night, ending a three-game losing streak to the Cyclones.
"As soon as I stepped on the floor I felt the energy," said Clemmons, who scored 14 points. "This was a must-win game, there's no doubt. In my hands, it's must win. I told the players that, too. This is a must-win. That's what my mindset was."
The energy was apparent from the tip, and Iowa took an 8-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. But it was tenuous. Iowa State trailed for much of the half, then exploded on a 15-2 run to take a 36-33 lead late in the first half. Iowa rallied with an alley-oop pass at the buzzer from Clemmons to Aaron White, but the Hawkeyes trailed by a point at halftime.
That's when previous Iowa teams without momentum might have faded. Iowa shot 1-for-11 from 3-point range. Iowa couldn't handle ISU's bench or the Cyclones' surge. This time, however, the Hawkeyes countered.
"All of us were in the locker room, 'We could play with this team,'" said White, who led all scorers with 18 points. "'If we play our game plan, we can beat this team.' That's what we did."
The Hawkeyes opened with a 7-0 run, but the Cyclones kept pace. Then Iowa's Josh Oglesby, who Coach Fran McCaffery sliced into at halftime for missing open shots, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers four possessions apart to put Iowa in the lead 60-51.
Iowa matched Iowa State score-for-score. When Iowa State's Percy Gibson completed a three-point play to cut the Hawkeyes' lead to five points, Clemmons followed with a jumper. When Clemmons fouled Cyclones point guard Korie Lucious, who knocked down two free throws, Clemmons responded with a 3-pointer to send the league back to eight.
Even with a minute remaining, after Lucious sank two-of-three free-throw attempts to cut Iowa's lead to six, Gesell hit two free throws to push the lead back up to 78-70. Youth was served.
"All three of them didn't let the stage affect them," White said. "You could see even before the game how excited Clemmons was and Woody. They live for stuff like this. That's why they're here, to make big plays in big games. That's what they did tonight."
Gesell and Clemmons combined for 25 points and 11 assists. Gesell had three steals and nailed all six free-throw attempts. Woodbury (nine points, five rebounds) brought energy in the post, and Iowa out-rebounded Iowa State the nation's fourth-leading rebounding team 37-35.
"I grew up in this state so I know what this rivalry is all about," Woodbury said. "It was phenomenal."