IOWA CITY --- Eric May no longer takes any minute of playing time for granted.
“You only have so much time to play this game and you have to make the most of it,’’ the Iowa senior said. “I see that now more than ever. I try to make the most of every minute I get.’’
Four weeks from today, the field for the NCAA tourney will be announced and May doesn’t want the Hawkeyes to again be on the outside looking in.
Iowa hasn’t been a part of the NCAA field since 2006 and as the Hawkeyes prepare for today’s 1 p.m. game against Minnesota and another opportunity to add a quality win to their 16-9 resume, May hasn’t lost sight of his goals.
“I can’t think of a better way to go out than to go out in the tourney,’’ May said. “That’s what we’re thinking about. We’re not settling for being a .500 team. We don’t want anything to do with that.’’
To achieve that, the 6-foot-5 wing has been willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
He has sacrificed any desire to start to embrace a role that includes leading Iowa’s defensive effort and finding teammates who are in a position to score.
“He’s the one guy who doesn’t care if he starts or not at all,’’ coach Fran McCaffery said. “That doesn’t make one bit of difference to him. He just wants to help the team and he’s doing that.’’
May, who started 69 games in his first three seasons at Iowa has made just one start this year. He filled in for injured Devyn Marble in the Hawkeyes’ loss to Michigan State in early January.
His scoring average of 4.5 points per game is half of what he averaged as a 23-game starter as a freshman.
But, May continues to average 18.9 minutes per game and has posted the best offensive rebound average, assist rate, assist-to-turnover ratio and free-throw percentage of his career this season.
“He has been doing so many things well,’’ McCaffery said. “He’s hit some big baskets for us, he’s done a phenomenal job of finding the open man and his defense has been stellar. Eric is someone who understands the game plan and you can make a legitimate argument that he is our best player right now. And, he’s doing that while playing a reserve role.’’
May was on the court throughout the final six minutes of Thursday’s 74-72 win at Penn State, helping the Hawkeyes earn their second Big Ten road win of the season.
His senior leadership down the stretch proved invaluable as Iowa kept its postseason dreams alive.
“I’m doing the things that I know I can do and I’m not trying to do too much. My first three years, my job was to be more of a scorer and to look to score. That’s just how those teams were built,’’ May said. “Now, my job is to set guys up, help them score and make good plays to give them that chance. Somebody needs to be the quarterback on the court.’’
That is a role which comes easily to May, who was regarded as one of the state’s top prep quarterbacks during his high school career at Dubuque Wahlert.
“I understand the team aspects of the game and with so many younger guys around, that is a something I accept,’’ May said. “This a group that has been willing to listen and learn and they respect that I’ve been through it before. When I speak up and correct something, they’ve accepted it.’’
His work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan complimented the steadiness of May’s game.
“He gives that team a lot more than people might think,’’ Ryan said. “He’s a capable scorer, but he is doing so many other things well for them right now. Like with any senior who works at it, he’s developed a well-rounded game and that is helping Iowa compete.’’
That approach is giving May a chance to achieve his goal.
“I want to finish up in the NCAA tourney. I’ve dealt with a lot since I got here, but we have a good team this year and I can’t think of a better legacy to leave as a senior than to be playing in the NCAA tourney in March,’’ May said. “That would be a great way to end it.’’