The Iowa Hawkeyes jumped out to a big lead in the first half of Wednesday's March Madness showdown with Tennessee but couldn't hold on, as the Volunteers rallied for a 78-65 overtime victory at University of Dayton Arena.
This battle of No. 11 seeds was excellent and encompassed the type of do-or-die situation the NCAA tournament accentuates, but Tennessee prevailed and will move on to face the Massachusetts Minutemen on Friday's round of 64 action.
Jarnell Stokes led the way for the Volunteers. The double-double machine scored 18 points and pulled down 13 rebounds as the victors kept the pressure up on defense and made it a physical fight over the final 20 minutes. Per March Madness TV, analyst Seth Davis stated that a stronger emphasis on the glass would work in Tennessee's favor:
"If it is a rough and tumble type of game where rebounding becomes the biggest factor, it will favor Tennessee." @sethdavishoops— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) March 20, 2014
Davis was proven right by Stokes, who seemed to accomplish all he set out to do based on his pre-game comments, per UTSports.com:
...I'm not thinking about putting up big numbers except maybe rebounding. But anything else I'm not really thinking about that. I just want to make the right play, make high IQ basketball plays and defend, rebound, do what my team needs me to win. I'm not really thinking about numbers.
Three other Vols scored in double figures, with guard Jordan McRae pouring in a game-high 20 points. Tennessee outscored Iowa a whopping 14-1 in overtime to secure a decisive triumph. ESPN Stats & Info noted the historical context of that extraordinary effort:
13-point win in OT by Tennessee is the 3rd largest margin of victory in an overtime game in tournament history (Texas A&M 17, 1980)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2014
A balanced effort and superior depth helped the Hawkeyes get off to a good start. The official March Madness Twitter account noted how nine Iowa players scored in the first half:
9, yes 9, Hawkeyes have scored in the first 20 minutes. Iowa leads Tennessee, 29-26, at halftime. #FirstFour— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 20, 2014
But the Hawkeyes enjoyed just a three-point advantage entering the intermission. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports felt the Volunteers were extremely fortunate to not be trailing by more:
That was a Get Out of Jail Free half for Tennessee. Have to be thrilled to be within three.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 20, 2014
From there, it was an evenly fought battle of back-and-forth, hotly competitive basketball, with Iowa somehow staying out in front all the while. However, a tone-setting play came when Tennessee's Josh Richardson threw down this monster slam dunk to give the Volunteers a spark:
With just over three minutes left, though, Antonio Barton drained a three-pointer to give the Volunteers their first lead of the entire game. Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble charged the other way for a three-point play the old-fashioned way. That put the Hawkeyes back on top 60-59.
Marble also hit a step-back jumper with 17 seconds remaining to even the game at 64:
He then contested a jumper by Jordan McRae at the buzzer but came down on McRae's foot, injuring himself to the point that he wasn't on the floor to begin overtime.
How much further will Tennessee go in the NCAA tournament?
Iowa's leading scorer struggled on this occasion, sinking just three of his 15 shots from the field. That stagnated some of the momentum the team had generated in stymieing Tennessee early, and it hurt the overall execution of the Hawkeyes' offense in half-court sets.
Despite how deep Iowa is, it could have used more from Marble, though he did hit some clutch shots that helped extend the game. While center Adam Woodbury was one of two Hawkeyes in double figures with a team-best 16 points, he wasn't any match for the likes of Stokes and Jeronne Maymon on the inside.
Weathering adversity is what March Madness is all about. Both of these teams faced their fair share throughout, but the Volunteers had a bit more in the tank and dominated the extra period as a result.
Tom Withers of the AP noted that he liked Iowa, yet felt the Hawkeyes had underachieved all season long:
I've liked this Iowa team from early this season. They've underachieved.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) March 20, 2014
This game served as a microcosm of that assertion.
Exactly two months ago, Iowa had just steamrolled Minnesota and was a "sleeper" Final Four contender. Wheels fell off. Tonight a microcosm.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 20, 2014
There was more depth, more potential and more to be desired from Iowa. Now the Hawkeyes will have to wonder what could have been while Tennessee gets a chance at a Cinderella run through the NCAA tournament.
An encounter with No. 3 Duke likely awaits in the round of 32 if the Vols can get past No. 6 UMass. Having Wednesday's win under their belts provides a momentous spark and could be enough to push them as far as the Sweet 16 even in the difficult Midwest region.
Anything further than that would be difficult to envision. The likes of undefeated Wichita State, reigning national runner-up Michigan and last year's NCAA tournament champion in Louisville are all in that cluster of the bracket.