IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)—Iowa coach Steve Alford says he wasn’t bothered by his team’s poor 3-point shooting because the Hawkeyes made up for it by hitting free throws when they counted most.
No. 23 Iowa made nine straight free throws in a stretch of the second and third overtimes and escaped with a 76-72 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night in the first triple-overtime game in Carver Hawkeye Arena’s 23-year history.
The Hawkeyes (14-4, 3-1 Big Ten), one of the worst shooting teams in the conference, shot 39 percent from the field, only 1-of-20 from 3-point range.
But Iowa’s defense held Minnesota to another poor shooting night and the Gophers (9-6, 0-4) failed to take advantage of several opportunities en route to their fourth straight Big Ten defeat.
“We had to win this thing with our defense because offensively … the shot would just not drop for us tonight,” Alford said. “We made enough key free throws down the stretch and we had some really key stops. I’m just really happy to get away with a win tonight.”
Erek Hansen led Iowa with a career-high 20 points, including two free throws that tied the game at 58 with 1:34 left in regulation.
Hansen, who had five blocked shots, also made two free throws to tie the game at 67 with 52 seconds left in the second overtime.
“On our team, whenever somebody gets hot, they just keep feeding him the ball, and tonight I was the one able to make the shots,” said Hansen, who played with four fouls in the overtimes. “It was sort of scary, playing with so many fouls, I didn’t want to go down and block shots. So I just kind of tried to be a big palm tree and stick my arms up in the air.”
Minnesota, playing in its first triple-overtime game since 1982, had plenty of chances to end its conference slide.
Vince Grier had two chances to be the hero, but missed last-second game-winners at the end of regulation and the first overtime.
The Gophers also struggled from the line, going 5-of-12 in the extra periods. During one stretch, the Gophers missed four straight when they had a chance to seal a victory in the final minute of the second overtime.
“I thought we did a lot of good things to get a win,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “But you have to make free throws. And when you have a chance on the road, and we had many, you need to learn how to grab it by the throat and finish it.”
The game featured two of the Big Ten’s worst shooting teams, and neither did much to bolster their percentages.
Iowa was 27-of-70, but shot 72 percent from the free throw line. Greg Brunner had 17 points and a career-high 23 rebounds for Iowa, while Jeff Horner added 12 and Adam Haluska 10.
The Gophers shot 35 percent from the field, including 7-of-19 from 3-point range, and hit just 54 percent from the free throw line. Maurice Hargrow led the Gophers with 16 points, while Grier added 15 and Adam Boone had 14.
Iowa, winners of three straight, pulled away early in the third overtime when Haluska made two free throws to put Iowa up 71-67, their biggest lead of the second half. Two free throws by Hargrow got the Gophers within 73-70, but Horner made three of four free throws over the final 37 seconds and the Hawkeyes held on, handing Minnesota its sixth loss in its last seven games in Iowa City.
In the first overtime, Brunner had a chance to put Iowa up by one with 35 seconds left, but he missed the second free throw. Minnesota was content to run down the clock and let Grier take the final shot, but his jumper in heavy traffic bounced off the rim.
“It was a one-play game, four or five different times, and we just didn’t get it done,” Monson said. “We just need to get some wins to build some confidence. Our guys are just really hurting right now.”
The Gophers led by as many as four points in the second overtime, but Iowa clawed back to tie it at 67 when Hansen made two free throws with 51 seconds remaining. Minnesota squandered a chance to take the lead late in the second overtime, but Jonathan Williams missed two free throws with 18 seconds left.