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IOWA CITY, Iowa With emblems blazing with Chris Street's memory on their chests, Iowa's players saluted the former Hawkeye legend Saturday night with their hearts.
Twenty years to the day of Street's tragic death, the Hawkeyes memorialized him with an effort that would have made him proud. In a 70-66 win against Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Hawkeyes fought with determination, effort and defense. They held off the Big Ten's lone unbeaten team and earned their first home league victory in the process.
Street's retired "40" gold jersey hung from a chair next to the scorer's table. It, and the sold-out arena, provided inspiration.
"There was an energy level in the building that I've never seen before," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "I've been in a lot of buildings in my playing and coaching career and nothing like that. There's not a doubt in my mind there was a difference."
"Our cue was to play like Chris Street, and I feel like we did," Iowa senior Eric May said. "It was emotional, but we took care of business and we honored him in that way."
Iowa nearly put the game out of commission in the first half. The Hawkeyes (13-5, 2-3 Big Ten) rocked Wisconsin to a 30-10 lead, holding the Badgers to just three field goals in their first 20 attempts. Iowa streaked on a 16-4 run that stretched more than nine minutes.
But there was little quit in Wisconsin (13-5, 4-1), which was expected. Iowa led by 13 points with 4:45 left in the game when the Badgers started chipping away at the Hawkeyes' lead. Wisconsin's George Marshall, who led all scorers with 20 points, chopped Iowa's lead to 10 points with a 3-pointer. After Iowa's Devyn Marble missed a lunging layup, Jared Berggren followed with an inside basket. Then after May missed a jumper, Marshall knocked his down to cut Iowa's lead to 57-51.
Then Marble, hampered with an injured toe, popped the most important shot of the night. With Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans in his face, Marble dribbled inside the 3-point arc, then stepped back and drilled a 3-pointer with 2:33 left. That shot lifted Iowa's lead back to nine.
"I know that he had four fouls, so he didn't want to give up the drive," Marble said. "Hesitation, step-back, I knew he was going to give me that shot. I took it.
"With the condition I'm in, I'm having a hard time really exploding toward the basket. I think the 3 was my best shot at that time."
But Wisconsin kept coming after Iowa. Berggren followed with a dunk. Marshall scored eight points in 44 seconds to pull Wisconsin within 66-63 with 22.5 seconds left.
But Iowa held on. Marble hit a pair of free throws to boost the Hawkeyes' lead back to five. White then gained a crucial steal and sank both free throws to put the game out of reach. Iowa knocked down 24 of 29 free throws, including 10 in the final 1:14.
"Making free throws at the end and, fortunately, the clock was on our side," Iowa junior Melsahn Basabe said. "They ran out of time, sometimes it's like that."
But the night belonged to Iowa. Somewhere, Street is smiling.