IOWA CITY, Iowa – Before this season, Iowa point guard Mike Gesell had only shown flashes of what made him a top-100 recruit coming out of high school.
He is now showing the extended version as a senior.
Gesell recorded his first career double-double as a Hawkeye by scoring 22 points and dishing out 10 assists during Tuesday’s 77-66 victory over Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I don’t think my game has changed a lot,” Gesell said. “I’m just being more aggressive. I have tremendous shooters around me, guys that I’ve played a lot of minutes with and I know how they’re going to play. And it makes it easier for me to drive.
“And I think me personally, I’ve done a much better job of picking spots, when I need to go and when not to go. I think that’s what has improved the most with my game.”
Iowa needed Gesell to perform well in Tuesday’s game to help compensate for fellow starting guard Anthony Clemmons, who was bothered by a hip pointer that he suffered in the previous game against Purdue last Saturday.
Clemmons played 17 minutes against Nebraska, but he clearly wasn’t himself. He missed the only three shots that he attempted and finished with just one rebound.
“He needed to be great tonight because clearly Clemmons was not himself,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Gesell. He gave us a gutty 17 minutes, Anthony did. But he was not as explosive as he normally is.
“That put a lot of pressure on Mike, especially when they started pressing late.”
Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff led Iowa in scoring with 25 points. It marked the eighth time this season that the 6-foot-9 Uthoff has led Iowa in scoring.
He also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots, all of which came in the first half.
On Monday, the Iowa players insisted there would be no letdown against Nebraska, which fell to 8-8 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten.
It took a little while for the Hawkeyes to prove it on Tuesday, but they were right.
Iowa fell behind 10-0, but then outscored Nebraska 31-12 for the remainder of the first half and led 31-22 at halftime.
“I’m not sure why we came out flat, but we turned it around about the 16-minute mark of the first half and then kind of ramped it up on defense and it turned into easy points,” Uthoff said.
Iowa improved 12-3 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten for first time since the 2002-03 season. The Hawkeyes also have won nine consecutive Big Ten regular-season games dating back to last season. That is Iowa’s longest winning streak in Big Ten play since the 1970 Hawkeyes finished 14-0 under head coach Ralph Miller.
Iowa has won six of eight games in the series since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011.
The Hawkeyes seized the momentum, and eventually the lead, after switching to a zone press defense early in the first half. Iowa used the same zone pressure to rattle Purdue in the second half of last Saturday’s 70-63 victory in West Lafayette, Ind.
McCaffery was asked after Tuesday’s victory if he switched to the zone pressure partly to spark his offense.
“It did that, but it also generated some energy,” McCaffery said. “We played with more energy. We started running more. The crowd got involved. The crowd got energized.
“Then our break was better. Our ball movement was better. We only created nine turnovers, but a couple of them were right there and we were close to a couple more and got their offense a little bit sideways, I thought.”
Sophomore forward Dom Uhl had another solid game off the bench, scoring 10 points and tying Uthoff with a team-leading eight rebounds.
“We were a little slow at the start,” Uhl said. “The bench just tried to provide energy.”
Nebraska, on the other hand, was slow down the stretch in the first half and failed to score in the final 7:33 before halftime.
“That’s just too big of a dry spell,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles. “I thought Iowa was flat early. And who wouldn’t be after the week they had.”
Miles was referring to Iowa’s victories over Purdue and fellow Big Ten contender Michigan State last Tuesday.
“And then they started to heating up later in the half and we couldn’t build a lead,” Miles said of Iowa. “And then consequently, we go down nine. And we shouldn’t have been down nine with all those open looks.”
As for Gesell, Miles pointed out that he didn’t have a chance to recruit him out of South Sioux City, Neb., because of the circumstances. Miles was hired at Nebraska the same year Gesell joined the Hawkeyes.
“Mike’s a really good player,” Miles said.
Iowa now has an extended break before playing its next game on Jan. 14 against Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. Iowa defeated the top-ranked Spartans 83-70 in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I haven’t had nine days off during a season for a long, long time," said senior center Adam Woodbury. "Probably going to back to high school. So it’ll be a little different."