IOWA CITY — Some of the negative comments about Devyn Marble’s recent basketball struggles were undeniable.
The Iowa junior guard was 8-of-44 from the field in his previous five games. He didn’t finish a drive in the last seconds of regulation that would have won the game at Purdue. He threw the ball away late in a 3-point loss at Minnesota.
After averaging 15.7 points in nonconference games, Marble was scoring just 8.8 in Big Ten play. He had a total of two points in his two games this week before Northwestern came to Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday.
But some opinions about Marble, most made behind cloaks of Internet anonymity by people who don’t know him, bounced from dumb to mean and back. Three of the countless examples from social media:
Does Marble just not care?
How good would Iowa be if Marble was good at basketball?
Iowa “lost its Marble.”
You’re not supposed to have rough patches, or periods when you lack total confidence in yourself when you’re 20 years old because…why?
“I’ve been playing well for, what, 10 years now or something like that,” Marble said after he scored 21 points in the Hawkeyes’ 71-57 victory over Northwestern. “A rough month, you can’t just let all of that go out the window.”
It was as if he flushed away his slump with, well, a flush. Twenty-eight seconds into Saturday’s game, the Hawkeyes were in transition after Melsahn Basabe blocked a Wildcat jumper. Marble flew to the hoop and dunked with force for the game’s first points.
Three minutes later, Iowa was running again after a Northwestern miss. Marble didn’t flinch before firing a line drive of a 3-pointer. He had been 6-of-30 from that distance in Big Ten games. Swish.
“I just shot it,” he said. “I didn’t think about it or anything like that.”
He proceeded to be the game’s best player, undisputed. He scored on a soft hook, a knife to the hoop, a putback. He had four dunks, salve for an ailing field goal percentage. He also had a game-high five assists.
If Iowa is to have any hope of rolling toward the NCAA tournament bubble, it needs this Marble. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery knows it, and never tossed the player out of his starting lineup when popular opinion suggested he do otherwise.
“I thought against Wisconsin (where Iowa lost Wednesday) he was so aggressive,” McCaffery said. “I told him to just keep being aggressive, play the game with reckless abandon. He goes 1 for-10, so he feels awful. It gets highlighted again. We lose in double-overtime. It wasn’t his fault we lost that game.
“I get nervous when I have a guy struggling who pouts in practice, doesn’t give effort in practice, blaming his teammates, blaming the coaching staff. Devyn kept working.”
Yes, this was a home game, and wasn’t against one of the Big Ten’s many powerhouses. But Marble brought a controlled fire to a first-half that was otherwise lethargic.
By basket or assist, he was directly responsible for 17 of Iowa’s 29 points in the first half when the game was close, and was as central a figure as anyone when the Hawkeyes pulled away later.
If you hadn’t seen Iowa’s last few games, you couldn’t have known Marble’s game was emerging from a funk.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “Nothing I can’t handle. … I know I have confidence in myself. I had to relax and just play.”
Whenever an athlete tells you he or she doesn’t hear outside criticism, feel free to roll your eyes. They hear it firsthand, they hear it secondhand. They see what’s written.
“Of course,” Marble said. “I’m going to hear it all over the place. It doesn’t really bother me.
“At some point I had to get out of this. Mentally, I feel like I’m tough enough to do that. The good players will find a way to prevail.”
But more important than that vote of self-confidence was what he added to it:“I’m glad I played well, I’m glad we won. But we still need more wins.”