IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The rush of excitement that flooded the Hawkeye community after receiving the first men's basketball postseason berth since 2006 carried over to the March 13 first-round National Invitational Tournament game.
The University of Iowa took to Mediacom Court inside an electric Carver Hawkeye Arena and played one of its most complete games of the season, defeating Dayton, 84-75.
"I just want to say how happy I am for these guys and how thankful I am for the Hawkeye fans to show up the way they did tonight, which was absolutely amazing," UI head coach Fran McCaffery said. "We didn't know we were having a game until Sunday night, and 13,000 people show up in less than 48 hours. That says everything you need to know about Hawk fans."
In a game where senior Matt Gatens was limited to seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, a number of Hawkeyes stepped up with key performances to bring down the Flyers.
Freshman Aaron White led the charge by scoring a career-high 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
"I was just trying to take advantage of my height and my energy down low, trying to get offensive rebounds and I got open on a couple dunks," White said. "A lot of it is because my teammates keep me open."
"He's really special," McCaffery said of White. "We knew we had something in Aaron White when we signed him, and you've all seen him. Very few freshmen at this level accomplish what he's accomplished."
To go along with White's output, sophomores Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe provided the scoring, energy and toughness that Iowa needed.
McCabe converted all nine of his field goal attempts and finished with 20 points and eight rebounds. Sixteen of McCabe's 20 points came in the first half.
"I was just being aggressive, just playing smart," McCabe said. "I know with the foul trouble I had all year, I just played smart, tried not to foul which makes life easier. We kept being aggressive inside and they couldn't stop us really."
Basabe turned in one of his best efforts of the season, scoring 15 points while grabbing five rebounds and blocking two shots.
The Hawkeyes scorched Flyers' defense all night, shooting 33-of-58 (56.9 percent) for the game.
It was an electrifying beginning to the game for the Hawkeyes. Leading 8-7 early, Iowa's Bryce Cartwright picked up a loose ball and threw a lob pass to White who finished with a dunk. The alley-oop accounted for one of Cartwright's 11 assists.
On Iowa's next possession, White found an open Roy Devyn Marble with a behind-the-back pass and Marble drilled a 3-pointer that caused the Hawkeye faithful to erupt.
Later, White slammed home another dunk and Basabe followed with a jam of his own that gave the Hawkeyes a 17-12 lead with 15:12 to go in the first half.
Iowa made eight of its first nine shots to start the game.
The Flyers bounced back to tie the game at 17, but McCabe took charge with five-straight points to put the Hawkeyes back on top. Freshman Josh Oglesby then hit a 3-pointer in transition that increased the Hawkeyes' lead to 25-20 with 11:20 left in the first half.
Both teams seemingly scored at will for the remainder of the first half but Iowa was able to maintain a narrow advantage throughout and went into the locker room leading 44-41.
The Hawkeyes shot a sizzling 60 percent (18-of-30) from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The game was tied at 49 four minutes into the second period when White, Basabe and the rest of the Hawkeyes took control. White scored seven consecutive points for the Hawkeyes in a one minute span that was highlighted by a tip-slam and a 3-pointer. Later, Basabe went on scoring rampage of his own. The 6-foot-7 post scored nine straight points for the Hawkeyes, all coming on tough, low post baskets.
Iowa stormed out to a 71-56 lead with 8:07 to play after White threw down his fourth dunk of the night that capped a 21-7 Hawkeye run over an eight minute span.
"That Michigan State loss, a lot of us didn't know if that would be our last game with some of these guys," White said. "And we just took advantage of that tonight and we don't want the season to end. We want to keep on playing and we came out with that energy."
Despite Gatens being limited offensively, the senior captain stepped in crunch time by draining a 3-pointer with 3:13 left in the game that put the Hawkeyes ahead 82-67; all but putting the game away.
Dayton, of the Atlantic 10 conference, finishes the season at 20-13 overall, while the Hawkeyes improve their record to 18-16.
"The fans came out and supported them," Dayton head coach Archie Miller said. "13,000 plus, it was a very energetic crowd. Probably the toughest venue we have been in all season long other than maybe Xavier on the road. We were coming into a bee's nest."
Former Hawkeye and current UI assistant softball coach is blogging about her second stint with Team USA... click HERE to access the blog.