COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Statement players make statement plays in statement games. Take your pick from Iowa's basketball lineup, and most fit that description Sunday afternoon.
At an arena where Iowa hadn't won in 10 years against an opponent Iowa hadn't beaten in eight games, the No. 20/23 Hawkeyes crossed its mental hurdle with an 84-74 win at No. 3-ranked Ohio State. It was the Hawkeyes' first win against a top-five team since 2001, but more importantly it sent a message to its Big Ten brethren that they've arrived. And they're here to stay.
"I think it’s a statement win, definitely for the fans, for the media, for the people watch us and have seen us kind of struggle," Iowa senior Melsahn Basabe said. "But for us, we expected to win this game."
Players make statements by performing to exceptional levels in tough environments. Iowa senior guard Devyn Marble was one of five Hawkeyes in double figures, and the Buckeyes failed to control him. Marble scored 22 points, hit 8-of-11 free throws and was disruptive on defense, forcing three steals.
Marble also shifted to point guard for the final four minutes, pacing Iowa to scores on 13 of its final 14 possessions. The Hawkeyes ended on a 22-9 run, and he scored five points in the final four minutes.
"I just told (assistant coach Kirk Speraw) let me do my thing and manage the game," said Marble, who added four rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. "Because we struggle with that, just managing games and it leads to bad shots and turnovers. Everybody slow down, manage the game, (I'll) make sure everyone’s in position."
Iowa (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten) trailed by nine points with 12:29 left and had missed nine of its first 10 3-point attempts. But after a pair of Marble free throws, Mike Gesell, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff all hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 55-55. Those are statement plays.
"Looking back on it, it’s huge," said White, an Ohio native, who scored 19 points with six rebounds. "They were looking like they were trying to creep away and they really cranked up their defense, which we knew they would do. We ran some good sets, we got some balls to bounce our way, which we hadn’t in the past. Those three big 3s tied it up and that gave us the confidence to make all the big plays."
Statement plays came in all varieties. Uthoff, who scored 10, drove baseline for a layup to give Iowa a 66-65 lead with 4:53 left. On the ensuing possession, Marble stole the ball from OSU's LaQuinton Ross and fed White for a dunk to put Iowa up three.
Ohio State closed within two when Amir Williams scored and was fouled by Iowa's Adam Woodbury. Basabe replaced Woodbury and tipped in a Marble miss on Iowa's next offensive trip.
Statements are made by toughness and resiliency. Iowa's shed its late-game free-throw woes by knocking down 10-of-12 in the final 86 seconds. Basabe grabbed four defensive rebounds over that span. Iowa's zone defense contained Ohio State's athletic ability.
Iowa had lost a series-high eight straight to the Buckeyes (15-2, 2-2) but the Hawkeyes dictated tempo throughout in a match-up of the Big Ten's best offense and defense. The Buckeyes allowed just 56 points a game with a high of 72, and that was in overtime. But Iowa's offense shattered that mark with ruthless precision, scoring 84 points overall, 44 in the paint and 15 in the fast break. It was the most points allowed by Ohio State since the 2008 NIT.
Iowa outrebounded Ohio State 40-31 and forced 17 turnovers. The Hawkeyes matched the Buckeyes' mental edge, which allowed them to rally improbably against Notre Dame and valiantly to force overtime at Michigan State. But not Sunday. Not against Iowa.
"To beat them, you need to have those same characteristics," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "I thought today we were incredibly resilient at various times in the game. I thought for us that’s a sign of maturity."
Perhaps most surprising was the players weren't surprised. Basabe left the court expressionless and walked to the scorer's table to shake hands with his opponents. White, Marble and Woodbury huddled near the bench and Gesell rubbed assistant Sherman Dillard's head as they escaped up the tunnel with smiles.
Yes, it was a statement win on CBS, a network that hadn't aired an Iowa game since 2007. But it was expected.
"I think I’ve got many more to come, to be honest," Marble said. "This is a special team. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re getting there. This is a very important step."
Perhaps that's the biggest statement of them all.