IOWA CITY, Ia. – A picture of Iowa’s basketball team was prominently displayed on ESPN’s college basketball website Saturday morning with a headline that read: “Backs Against The Wall.”
A little strong, Devyn Marble said, but he understood the message. No. 17 Iowa entered Saturday’s game with No. 10 Michigan on the heels of two straight home losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. Then the senior guard went out and did something about it.
Marble scored 26 points, 22 in the first half, and made it hard for Michigan star Nik Stauskas to get any open looks as the Hawkeyes cruised to a 85-67 victory before a sellout crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I don’t like to say anything is a must-win,” said Marble, a Michigan native. “But this was a very important win.”
“I thought they had great focus,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after his team improved to 18-6 overall and 7-4 in the Big Ten. “In no way, shape or form was there anything close to desperation.”
Michigan State seemingly made all the hustle plays in a 71-69 overtime victory over Iowa on Jan. 28. The Hawkeyes made just three of 20 3-pointers and lacked a defensive presence in Tuesday’s 76-69 loss to Ohio State. On Saturday, 3-point shooting and defense carried Iowa to its second victory over a top-10 team for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
Iowa won at No. 3 Ohio State last month. The 2005-06 team beat No. 8 Kentucky at a neutral site and beat No. 6 Illinois at home.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after his team fell to 9-2 in the Big Ten and 17-6 overall. “They punched us early, and it was hard to respond.”
Beilein pointed to Iowa’s defense, not the 85 points his team surrendered, as the reason his team lost Saturday.
“It was their defense that won the game,” Beilein said. “They had a tremendous game defensively. We couldn’t get anywhere we wanted to go.”
When Iowa returned to practice Thursday, Marble said the team practiced with an intensity and focus usually reserved for the first day of the season.
“We came into this game with a sense of urgency,” Marble said.
Marble made a trio of 3-pointers in the first 4 minutes, and Iowa was off and running. After scoring a total of 18 points in the first half of the previous six games combined, Marble had 22 at halftime as Iowa led 43-29.
With Marble making six of his nine 3-pointers, Iowa was 8-for-11 as a team the first half. The Hawkeyes had made just eight of 42 3-pointers in its previous three losses, at Michigan and Michigan State and Ohio State at home.
“We knew they had lost two straight coming in,” Stauskas said. “Any team successful in this league is going to have a sense of urgency in trying to bounce back. We needed to do a better job of responding. I didn’t think we did that.”
Marble’s defense on Stauskas, who had torched Iowa for a career-high 26 points in a 75-67 win in Ann Arbor last month, was equally impressive. Marble and his teammates limited Stauskas to just six shot attempts and 10 points.
Marble also had two steals, two assists and just one turnover in one of the most complete games of his career. Iowa’s lead ballooned to as much as 27 points against a team that had won eight of the last nine games in the series.
“That was a (Big Ten) player of the year candidate performance, for sure,” said Beilein, who recruited Marble as a senior at Southfield Lathrup but used the scholarship on Tim Hardaway Jr., instead.
Iowa point guard Mike Gesell said the defense is what sparked Iowa’s offense. Limited to less than 70 points in its last three losses, the Hawkeyes got their trademark transition game clicking early after rebounding Michigan misses. Iowa outrebounded Michigan 38-29, and 15 of them came on the offensive glass.
Gesell, a sophomore, had his most complete game as well. He finished with 11 points, eight assists and three steals against one turnover. Aaron White added 11 points and eight rebounds.
“Our defense was as good as it’s been all year,” Gesell said. “We got out in transition and got it flowing.”
All those numbers, and the Hawkeyes’ penchant for making hustle plays missing from the previous two home games, added up to a signature victory for a team that needed one.
“We finally put it together, and put on a good show for our home crowd,” White said.