IOWA CITY — Now the exhale.
No, Iowa's men's basketball players aren't peeking ahead to Thursday's game at Penn State. They're looking more narrowly than that, and they'd hardly admit they'd relax looking at any opponent. The Hawkeyes are excited for a much-needed two-day rest after a grueling stretch run through the Big Ten.
"Yeah, we do (need a break)," Iowa senior Eric May said Saturday after beating Northwestern 71-57. "We’ve worked really hard and kind of been through a tough grind those last few games. So, again, recharge the batteries and get some shots in on Monday on our own and then get back to work on Tuesday."
Iowa (15-9, 4-7 Big Ten) was scheduled for no basketball-related activities on Sunday or Monday. The players can take shots and work out on their own, and most of them will.
"They got a day off (Sunday) with no practice, nothing," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "I don't know that we've ever had a time where I felt like, ‘Boy, they really need a day off.’ We're actually going to give them off Monday, too, because last week we didn't give them off a day at all. Now we have to give them two."
The Hawkeyes just finished four games in 10 days, ending with Saturday's win. Iowa was 2-2 in that series, knocking off Penn State and Northwestern at home while losing in the final seconds at Minnesota and in double-overtime at Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin loss ended a 15-day span where Iowa had played four of five games on the road. Only Purdue, which currently is playing four-of-five road games over a 14-day period, boasts a more grinding sequence.
Iowa dropped all four of those road games and the outcome in the final three -- Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin -- wasn't decided until the final seconds or overtime. So picking off Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena while keeping a good attitude and shooting 48 percent was impressive.
"It feels good," May said. "We were right there on those last few games. We’re all staying really positive, and we come into each game expecting to win the game, and I think we showed that (Saturday)."
"It doesn’t feel good knowing you should have beat a team," Iowa junior forward Melsahn Basabe said. "I feel like we’ve been better than teams, and we know they’ve gotten us at the end. Just this win is nothing more gratifying than that."
1. Marble the missing piece. Iowa junior Devyn Marble put his league-long struggles in the rear-view mirror and put together his best performance in Big Ten play. Marble scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting and had five assists and five rebounds. He scored on high-percentage dunks and perimeter shots alike. It was good for him to get back on track.
But it also opened up his teammates. He found Melsahn Basabe twice for key buckets in an 8-0 run when Iowa trailed. He helped space the floor, which helped all of his teammates. If Marble can consistently regain his form, there's no question Iowa is a better team.
"Sometimes I feel like when you go into battle, you’ve got to get your soldiers’ confidence, too," Marble said.
"He’s so versatile. He can shoot it, he can drive it. They put their best defender on him," Iowa sophomore guard Josh Oglesby said of Marble. "It just spreads our offense out so much. When he’s playing well, he’s unstoppable."
2. Iowa has an opportunity. The Hawkeyes have seven regular-season games left, and their opponents have a combined Big Ten record of 29-48 (after Sunday night's Minnesota-Illinois game). When you pull a road game at No. 1 Indiana out of the mix, six opponents are a combined 20-46.
"This is the game of basketball," Basabe said. "This is a journey."
3. Oglesby making strides. Oglesby, like Marble, has struggled at times. But Oglesby came up big with two 3-pointers in a 10-0 run that sent a two-point Iowa lead to a 50-38 advantage. He finished with 10 points.
"I thought Josh had a tremendous game," McCaffery said. "He hit some shots. I think that's what everybody looks at when they look at him. Defensively he might have been our most solid defender. That's why I stayed with him. He was in there a long time, might be a little tired. But defensively he was spectacular."