IOWA CITY — Nothing on the line? Tell that to Iowa sophomore Jake Kelly who woke up Saturday with a 101-degree body temperature and spilled his guts in a trash can 50 feet from the basketball court early in the second half.
Nothing on the line? Ask senior Cyrus Tate, who lugged a swollen right ankle up and down the court for 42 minutes Saturday afternoon.
Nothing on the line? Hard to tell at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday where Iowa, the Big Ten’s 10th-best team, outfought, out-hustled and just gutted out a 75-67 double-overtime win against Penn State in the teams’ Big Ten regular-season finale. If there was nothing on the line, Kelly wouldn’t have played. Tate wouldn’t have bawled his eyes in the locker room. Matt Gatens and Devan Bawinkel wouldn’t have played 50 minutes.
“I think it was just the desire,” said Tate, who scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his final game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “I think all of the guys gutted it out, just said ‘OK, we’re going to take this; this is our home.’ I think guys just really had that mindset, that focus (Saturday).’”
Kelly notched his fourth 20-point effort this season, finishing with 22 points, 11 assists and four rebounds — three of which were offensive. He’s scored at least 19 points in the last six games.
Playing was the key objective for Kelly entering Saturday’s game. He didn’t practice Friday and is taking antibiotics for a sinus infection.
“When I woke up I had a 101, and I just thought, ‘No way,’” Kelly said. “I didn’t even go to pre-game meal or nothing. When I got here, I decided to play. We don’t have that many bodies. It was like, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ I didn’t think I was going to play that much.’”
Kelly didn’t play the final 3 minutes in the first half, the first time in five games he left the court. Less than 30 seconds into the second half, he told assistant coach LaVell Jordan he was going to vomit. Jordan told Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter, who promptly called a timeout. Kelly left the court, vomited and ran back to Lickliter’s huddle. Kelly then played the rest of the game.
Kelly scored 16 points and dished eight assists after halftime. He gave Iowa a six-point lead with 1:40 left in regulation. He passed to Jarryd Cole under the basket for a layup with 10 seconds left to knot the score at 56-56 and send the game into overtime. But Kelly saved his best for overtime, scoring nine points — all 3-pointers.
With 55 seconds left in the second overtime and Iowa leading 68-67, Kelly shot from the top of the key and banked in a 3-pointer. It was his second 3-pointer off the backboard.
“I had no idea where those were going,” Kelly said. “I had no legs, nothing. I was blessed to hit those, that’s for sure.”
Post players Tate and Cole normally rotate but instead combined for 77 minutes, including both overtime periods. Cole had 14 points and 11 rebounds and hit all five shots from the field. Both were effective against Penn State’s constant switching on defense, giving Iowa choices in the post. It also gave Iowa a 43-32 rebounding edge.
“I think we complement each other well,” Cole said. “Whenever one of us attracts so much attention, it takes pressure off either one of us and either one of us are able to produce when that happens.”
“I think we unleashed a new weapon,” Tate said. “It gets a lot of pressure off me or Jarryd being down there all by ourselves trying to rebound. It gives some teams something to think about.”
The game’s other highlights — Penn State rallying from nine-point deficit with 2:39 left, Nittany Lions guard Talor Battle scoring 26 points, Senior Day festivities and Iowa edging last year’s average attendance totals by 100 (10,861) — paled compared to Iowa’s resiliency and determination. Iowa finished 15-16 and 5-13 in the Big Ten but had lost seven games by six points or less.
“It’s definitely fitting,” Kelly said. “We need it. It’s our time, I think. Maybe we’ll put some momentum going into the Big Ten tournament.”
“We’ve had some setbacks and some rough times and these guys never hung their heads or felt sorry for themselves,” Lickliter said. “They just seized the next opportunity.”
Nothing on the line? Tell that to Penn State, who could have soared to No. 2 in the Big Ten. Now, they could miss out on a bye for this week’s Big Ten Tournament.
Nothing on the line? Not if you play basketball at Iowa.