IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The NIT offered Iowa an opportunity to energize its long-suffering fan base and give its talented young core a taste of the postseason.
Hawkeyes fans came out in droves to a game their team lucked into hosting and watched a pair of underclassmen play their best games yet.
Freshman Aaron White scored a career-high 25 points, sophomore Zach McCabe tied a career high with 20 on 9-of-9 shooting and seventh-seeded Iowa rolled past Dayton 84-75 on Tuesday night in the opening round of the NIT
Sophomore Melsahn Basabe added 15 points, his most since December, for the Hawkeyes (18-16). They'll play Oregon in the second round after winning its first postseason game since a 54-53 victory over Iowa State in 2003.
"Those three guys are really good players. Smart, tough, and they're just getting great experience right now," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Iowa, which was playing in its first postseason tournament game in six years, broke open a tie game with a 16-3 run midway through the second half to go ahead 65-52.
Kevin Dillard had 23 points for Dayton (20-13), which beat Minnesota, Alabama and Mississippi this season and won the NIT just two years ago. But the Flyers were forced to play in Iowa City because Dayton's home gym was hosting the NCAA tournament.
There was little doubt Iowa's raucous, near-sellout crowd put the higher-seeded Flyers at a major disadvantage.
"They had us on our heels," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "Probably the toughest venue we've been in all season long other than maybe a Xavier game on the road. But we were coming into a bee's nest."
The Hawkeyes fed off that energy, taking control of a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair with their second-half run.
It was about as good of a stretch as Iowa's had all year, and Basabe capped it by following a nifty drive through traffic with a three-point play and a layup to help give the Hawkeyes a 13-point lead with 11:29 left.
Things went from bad to worse for Dayton, as McCabe hit a bank shot that made it 69-54 with 8:39 remaining.
"We just ran into a dogfight," Williams said.
The Flyers held Iowa star Matt Gatens to just seven points, but Gatens buried a 3 with 3:19 left that put the Hawkeyes ahead by 15 points. Iowa dominated Dayton in the paint, outscoring the Flyers 48-30.
"I just think we're all physical, we're a tough matchup in the post. (Basabe) went on a run and (White) went on a run and we just kept being aggressive inside and they couldn't stop us," McCabe said. "
Paul Williams added 12 points for Dayton, which packed their red away uniforms because they were hitting the road. But technically they were the home team, forcing Iowa to wear its black road unis.
It seemed only fitting the Flyers were their road colors, because Iowa's crowd made sure they were the home team in name only.
"It's a reality. When you earn the No. 2 seed in the NIT, your chances of your ability to advance are significantly increased when we play in front of our 13,000 people," Miller said. "The Big Ten is one of the toughest leagues in the country to win on the road."
The Hawkeyes gave them reason to stay involved early on. Bryce Cartwright threw an alley-oop to White from half court -- one of a career-high 11 assists -- and White followed with a behind-the-back pass to Roy Devyn Marble for an open 3.
Iowa shot 60 percent in the opening half but led only 44-41.
The Hawkeyes turned up their defense in the last 20 minutes, holding the Flyers to 35.5 percent shooting after halftime and 9-of-30 shooting from 3-point range overall.
"I could see despite the fact that it was an up-and-down game, and it was a physical game, our guys just were not getting tired. And that's really a direct result of the crowd energy," McCaffery said. "