Hawkeye women down Mercer in close first-round battle

Mercer fought to secure an upset, but Megan Gustafson and Makenzie Meyer had other plans.

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Katina Zentz

Iowa center Megan Gustafson keeps the ball away from Maryland players during the women’s Big Ten Championship basketball game vs. Maryland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, March 10, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins 90-76 and are the Big Ten champions.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

It was sloppy, scrappy and hard-fought, but the No. 8 Iowa women’s basketball team prevailed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 66-61 win over Mercer.

As she has all season long, Megan Gustafson paced the Hawkeyes with 30 points and 16 rebounds on 14-of-16 shooting from the floor.

She also broke the Big Ten’s single-season points record previously held by Minnesota’s Rachel Banham – Gustafson has 927 so far this year.

While Iowa finished with a decent field goal percentage (54.9), it was plagued by turnovers for most of the game, racking up 14 by halftime.

Those struggles continued in the second half, as the Hawkeyes gave away 10 more possessions and allowed Mercer to stay in the game.

Despite that, Iowa picked up a win, mostly from sound defense. Mercer entered the game shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from deep, yet Iowa was able to stifle it.

Mercer’s struggles from the floor allowed Iowa to hold the Bears to just 18 points off 24 turnovers, which is key reason Iowa pulled out the win.

Iowa may have faltered, but Mercer also played better than expected, and after trailing for most of the game, Mercer got out to a 4-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

Calm and resilient, Iowa fought its way back with Gustafson at the helm. She totaled 5 fourth-quarter points and several emotional fist pumps.

Her biggest moment came with under 20 seconds left in the fourth. After a missed free throw from Tania Davis, Gustafson put her body on the floor and forced a jump ball, which awarded the ball back to Iowa with 13 seconds left and a 3-point lead.

Offensively, Makenzie Meyer played a compleentary role to Gustafson’s paint pounding with 16 points, 15 of them from beyond the arc. She also grabbed 6 rebounds and handed out 3 assists.

Hannah Stewart also made some critical contributions filling out the stat sheet with 12 points, 4 assists, and 1 rebound. Most of her output for the game happened in the fourth quarter, racking up 8 points and 5 rebounds.

The other starters for Iowa (Kathleen Doyle and Davis) struggled to score, putting up a combined 8 points. Instead, they contributed assists, combining for 8 of those.

Now Iowa will await the winner of No. 7 Missouri and No. 10 Drake later today with the next game being played March 24.

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