IOWA CITY -- Devyn Marble had every right to play selfishly Friday night, yet the Iowa guard got his teammates involved more than ever in a 75-63 NIT second-round win against Stony Brook.
Marble scored 28 points, including 10 in the first 4 minutes, 15 seconds of the game. He took 18 shots and made nine, but none seemed forced. He dished five assists, including a crucial one late in the first half that gave Iowa a three-point halftime lead. In short, Marble played exactly how he wanted, and he provided exactly what his team needed.
"He set the tone in a lot of ways," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "When I look at the stats, I look for things that jump out at me, and the thing that jumps out at me is 20 assists and 26 baskets. I think that applies to our team, and he's the guy."
Iowa (23-12) has won nine of its last 12 games. Over that span, Marble has averaged 18.3 points, which would have placed him third in Big Ten scoring. He finished eighth in the league at 14.1 points.
Marble has elevated the Hawkeyes in the postseason. Iowa dumped both of its NIT opponents by double digits, and Marble's stat line is impressive. He has combined for 52 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, six steals and only two turnovers while averaging 34.5 minutes a game.
"I think we’re playing our best basketball right now, and one of the main reasons is because of Dev," Iowa forward Aaron White said. "He gets 28, but if you look back on it, I don’t think he ever forced a shot. He gets it in the flow of the game, he gets guys involved, he gets 28, which is great. He gets to the free-throw line. I think we’re really riding the way he’s playing."
Marble was helped Friday because of a physical mismatch. Neither player in Stony Brook's starting back court was taller than 6-foot-2. At 6-7, Marble held every advantage, and he was aggressive almost immediately.
On Iowa's first possession, Marble beat his defender and center Adam Woodbury found him for a reverse layup. Three possessions later he followed his own miss to put Iowa ahead 6-4. A series later he scored inside and was fouled for a three-point play. Marble drilled a 3-pointer on Iowa's next possession, giving him 10 points with 15:45 left in the first half.
"From watching film I knew that they were little," Marble said. "They were really good, skillful guards but small. I don’t see that too often in the Big Ten when they’re that little. I’m going to take advantage of that. I did a good job of doing that. Even when they got up into me, I handled the ball good enough where they wouldn’t bother me. I can see over them and make the passes where they need to be made on time. We executed.
"I was definitely comfortable."
Marble finished 8-of-11 from the free-throw line. He found freshman guard Mike Gesell for a go-ahead 3-pointer with 16:04 left in the game and answered a Stony Brook basket with a pair of free throws during a 13-3 run. Perhaps his most important basket was a 3-pointer with 8:07 left to give the Hawkeyes a 61-52 lead.
"Dev’s 6-7 point guard," White said. "You saw early on he was getting to the free-throw line. He was shooting over the top of those guys. You can’t put a 6-1 guy on him. He’ll score every time he touches it.
"He’s coming into his own. He’s taking advance of the mismatch that he is. He’s getting other guys involved. He’s shooting the ball great, getting to the free-throw line. Rebounds, assists, steals. He does it all."
1. McCaffery's captains. The talent pool was depleted when Fran McCaffery arrived at Iowa, but he did inherit three of the best team captains in Iowa basketball history. Jarryd Cole, Matt Gatens and Eric May all were tremendous role models and leaders in each of the last three years and helped set the foundation for the coming era of Iowa basketball. When their playing days are over, all three will be recognizable faces and names in Iowa circles for generations to come and deservedly so. Their contributions were vital in the resurgence of Iowa basketball.
2. Crowded house. Iowa posted its sixth sellout this season in Friday's win against Stony Brook. It easily was the loudest crowd I've seen at Carver-Hawkeye Arena since moving back to Iowa in 2006. It also reminded me of a couple of games three seasons ago where fans weren't quite as enthusiastic.
On Jan. 10, 2010, Iowa played host to Tennessee State in a midweek, non-conference game after playing a few Big Ten opponents. The fans did not respond, and only 2,500 showed up. It was so quiet during Iowa's 67-62 win that at times the ball echoed when dribbled.
On Feb. 3, 2010, Illinois' vaunted fan base the Orange Krush got a Quad Cities-area donor to purchase around 200 tickets under the north basket. Just before tip-off, the students ripped off their Iowa shirts and displayed their bright orange T-shirts. I have yet to receive more in-game angry messages from Iowa fans watching a game on television than from that night. That even includes last week's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal between Iowa and Michigan State.
Iowa averaged a record-low 9,550 paid fans and barely 5,000 actual fans in 2010. Those days clearly are in the rearview mirror. With an average of 13,625 fans per game this year, Iowa posted its best average home attendance since the 2001-2002 season.
3. Woodbury better than the stats. Iowa center Adam Woodbury didn't score against Stony Brook but he impacted the game early. He assisted Devyn Marble (reverse layup) and Aaron White (dunk) on Iowa's first two possessions and picked up a steal that led to a White 3-pointer and a Stony Brook timeout. Woodbury grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in 17 minutes. Only four fouls prevented him from playing more.
EXTRA THOUGHT: Stony Brook's Steve Pikiell can coach. The Seawolves were outmanned, traveling halfway across the country on short notice, yet competed without intimidation in a hostile environment. Pikiell flattened Iowa's momentum by calling timeouts shortly before regular media timeouts, which allowed his team to recover from multiple Iowa runs.
Pikiell played under Jim Calhoun at UConn and took over a porous program at Stony Brook that was 4-24 in his rookie 2005-06 season. Pikiell built the team to win three America East regular-season titles in the last four seasons. Stony Brook won a school-record 25 games, posted more road wins (13) than any other school this year and held opponents to 37.5 percent shooting.
If I'm Northwestern or another program looking for a coach, I'd take a close look at Pikiell.