Saturday, December 4, 2021

Reckers clutch performance is March at its best

March is nearly every sports fan’s favorite month - and despite what the shameless self-promoters at ESPN will tell you, it’s not because “A Season on the Brink” aired.

And while the “total sports network” ventures in Brian Dennehy movies, I’ll try to find something a little more worthwhile to write about.

I have to resist any urge to write a “65 things I love about March” column, because it’s in the best interest of you, the reader, and my reputation to avoid any and all gimmicky columns - i.e. Reason No. 61: One month to April showers, two months to May flowers (it wouldn’t be pretty).

I find one reason why I love March, and I didn’t even realize it until Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis.

After our beloved Spartan men’s basketball team got bounced from the Big Ten Tournament on Friday by Indiana, I stuck around Conseco Fieldhouse to watch some tournament basketball. And I found something I see all the time to be a little extra spectacular.

On any given week, a sports fan can file on “SportsCenter” and see a spectacular individual achievement - a ninth-inning home run, a great save on a penalty shot, a hole-in-one and a Hail Mary touchdown are the highlights we want to see.

Well, while watching Iowa on Saturday I saw something that, even if just for a moment, became bigger than the rest of the tournament. I saw Hawkeye guard Luke Recker carry his team to a victory over the Hoosiers.

And even more amazing, I saw it for the second day in a row.

Going into the tournament, the Hawkeyes have disappointed more people than amazed, as high preseason hopes turned into a ninth-place conference finish.

Needing to win four games in four days to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Recker, a fifth-year senior, and his Hawkeyes had nothing to lose.

After beating Purdue to begin its tournament run, it was Recker’s amazing second half that put Iowa on top of Big Ten co-Champion and top-seed Wisconsin 58-56 on Friday. Twenty-four of his game-high 28 points came in the second.

Recker outscored the entire Wisconsin team 16-12 in the final 8:47, including a fall-away jumper with 1.4 seconds left that proved to be the game-winning basket.

Truly amazing was Recker’s final five minutes against the No. 21 Hoosiers, a school he transferred from after his sophomore season.

Greeted with boos from the Hoosier fans, Recker calmly refused to allow his team’s tournament hopes to die.

A long-range three over the outstretched fingers of Indiana guard and Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Dane Fife tied the game at 60 with 58 seconds left. And the shot set the stage for more heroics.

After leaping out of bounds and calling a timeout with 13.2 seconds left, Recker came off a baseline screen, beat Indiana forward and Big Ten Player of the Year Jared Jeffries off the dribble and connected on a jumper, beating the buzzer by a fraction of a second.

I was in awe.

And I know buzzer-beaters happen all the time and, while impressive, aren’t anything to be enamored by.

But Recker doing this twice in a row, and with his team needing a win to stay in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid, is amazing.

And it was, dare I say, one shining moment.

But this is what March is about. It’s about the Lorenzo Charleses, the Bryce Drews, the Tyus Edneys and the Christian Laettners.

March is the stage for some of the highest drama this side of Melrose Place. It’s when college basketball players, people my age, become heroes. It’s when people faced with extraordinary odds and extraordinary pressure often rise up and do extraordinary things.

That’s what I love about this month.

It’s when the Luke Reckers hit game-winning shots against rivals with everything on the line and are moved to tears like Recker was after his jumper.

March is when there’s little to no margin for error, and the most resilient are the most successful.

So when you fill out your bracket and watch the tournament games this week, keep an eye open for someone doing something special.

It happens more often during this special time of year.

Dan Woike, a men’s basketball reporter, can be reached at woikedan@msu.edu.

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