CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, all taking place in the first half for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes’ offense sizzled for most of the first half and took a 21-point lead with 7:35 left until halftime. Then the typical Illinois surge against Iowa overwhelmed the Hawkeyes for most of the first half and trail just 40-36 at halftime.
Illinois finished the half on a 23-6 run, scoring on nine of its final 11 possessions. The Fighting Illini knocked down three 3-pointers over that span and Iowa’s offensive execution was nonexistent. The Hawkeyes went the final 7:35 without a field goal and scored its only six points from the free-throw line.
For much of the first half, Iowa’s offense was electric. The Hawkeyes had their own 21-4 run over a five-minute span. Iowa outscored Illinois 14-0 in second-chance points by halftime.
Iowa’s Gabe Olaseni led Iowa with 11 points. Illinois’ Joseph Bertrand scored 12.
Welcome to the new House of ‘Pagne here in Champaign, Ill. The formerly known Assembly Hall (1963-2013) has been renamed the State Farm Center. The naming rights’ deal last 30 years and the arena will undergo a major renovation after the season. Among the changes will include renovations to the seating area, four levels of premium seating and other amenities.
Iowa’s existence at the Assembly Hall was fraught with misery and despair. The Hawkeyes’ 73-69 loss to Illinois on March 9, 1963 was the second game played at Assembly Hall. It clinched a share of the Big Ten title for Illinois.
The Hawkeyes have lost 22 of their last 23 here, including 11 straight. Those 22 losses were by an average of 12.2 points. Iowa was 9-37 at Assembly Hall and is 14-61 lifetime in Champaign.
Good Iowa teams have gotten crushed here. Same thing with bad Iowa teams. This year presents a different dynamic for the teams. Rarely have the Hawkeyes been decent while the Fighting Illini have been below average. The last time was in 1999 — Iowa’s only win here since 1987 — when Illinois finished last in the Big Ten and Iowa played in the Sweet Sixteen. But that’s not the case this year.
Entering today, Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring with 84.5 points a game and in scoring margin (18.1). Illinois ranks 11th in scoring at 67.5 and eighth in scoring margin (4.2). Iowa also ranks first in field-goal percentage defense (37.9), while Illinois is seventh at 41.3 percent.
Illinois started Big Ten play ranked No. 23 but has dropped six straight. Only once (a 95-70 loss at Wisconsin) have the Fighting Illini scored more than 62 points. Twice Illinois has scored in the 40s (43 at Northwestern, 46 at Indiana).
Iowa senior Devyn Marble is the primary reason why the No. 15/12 Hawkeyes have started 16-5 (5-3 Big Ten). Marble, a 6-foot-7 guard, ranks seventh in Big Ten scoring at 16.3 points a game. He’s also fifth in steals (1.9), eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8), 14th in assists (3.0) and 15th in 3-pointers (32).
Additionally, Marble has become a top-notch defender, holding Michigan State star Gary Harris to nine points on 3-of-9 shooting on Tuesday. Marble could merit strong consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
“I think you can argue that,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think what he’s done is certainly put himself in a position to be a first-team all-conference player. I think what’s happened is in terms of the NBA, they’re looking at him a lot differently and I think they’ve been more and more impressed as more guys look at him. That, to me, was to be expected.
“I just want him to play at that level of intensity and that level of concentration. It’s very difficult to do what he does at both ends of the floor with the energy level that he does it with. That’s one of the things that’s impressed me about Gary Harris. It’s one of the things that people talk about with him being a lottery pick. He does play both ends. He’s not just a scorer.
“When you look at Devyn Marble, you have to see the same things. He’s not just a scorer, plus he’s a legitimate point guard. So he’s having a spectacular year, I expected him to have a spectacular year, and I’m happy for him.”
There’s been much discussion about Aaron White’s lack of offensive production, especially in the first half of games. White combined for three first-half points against Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern but totaled 40 points by the end.
White shot just once in the first half and four times overall against Michigan State. He scored 10 points, but eight came from the free-throw line.
“He can shoot it whenever he wants. He knows that,” McCaffery said. “When you’re one of the best players, you’re going to be (closely) guarded. So he opted to move the ball on. We posted him, got him to the free-throw line. They were really getting back so he didn’t getting as many transition opportunities he would have liked. A lot of times he gets shots there.”
Illinois is led by transfer Rayvonte Rice, who averages 16.7 points. Rice played for two seasons at Drake, scoring 983 points and averaging 15.4 a game.
“I thought he was tremendous at Drake,” McCaffery said. “To me, he’s in incredible shape physically. I think he’s really committed to himself to getting in the weight room. He’s really powerful. But his game is the same in terms that he can shoot the 3 for range, he can put it on the deck either way. He can post up. He can play in traffic. He rebounds the ball. He does a lot of things to help your team win. He’s one of the leading scorers in our league.”
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