IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After two excruciating road losses back-to-back at major rivals, the Iowa men's basketball team needed a mental-health day. So did co-captain and go-to scorer Devyn Marble.
The Hawkeyes (15-9, 4-7 Big Ten) fought through tired legs Saturday to batter well-rested Northwestern 71-57 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Marble shrugged off a personal slump to score 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.
"If you asked me if I knew that today was going to be the day, no, I just came out and played like I did the last couple of games," Marble said. "It just happened to end like this. I was thankful for that, I was thankful to get the win."
Marble scored the game's first points on a dunk, then followed four possessions later with a 3-pointer. He also fed his teammates, finding Melsahn Basabe twice to ignite a key 8-0 first-half run. It gave himself and his teammates confidence.
"Devyn played great," senior guard Eric May said. "It looked like he was in a good flow. He was seeing the court, making plays. It's really good having him play like that."
But the game was more than just boosting Marble's sagging confidence. It was about the team finishing an opponent. Four times in Big Ten play, Iowa had an opponent down with two minutes left in a game only to suffer defeat. Saturday's game was not only about winning for Iowa; it was about putting a team away so it didn't come down the final minutes. Iowa did that in the second half.
Northwestern's Kale Abrahamson drilled a 3-pointer to bring the Wildcats (13-11, 4-7) within 40-38 with 12 minutes left. The Hawkeyes then hit for a 10-0 run, started and ended by Josh Oglesby 3-pointers. That gave Iowa a commanding 12-point lead with 8:50 to go.
But the Hawkeyes weren't finished. Northwestern chipped away over the next two minutes, cutting its deficit to nine points. Then the Hawkeyes exploded for a 14-4 run. Marble dunked twice to stamp out the Wildcats. It also provided a measure of relief.
"Coming into a game, you kind of expect to win," Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. "That's the mentality that you have to have. But I think we do have that feeling (relief) a little bit. These close games we've been losing are so tough. We've been able to stay positive throughout it, and now we've got to continue to work in and finish the season on a positive note and take it one game at a time."
Iowa lost its last two games in the final seconds, both in tough fashion. The Hawkeyes led by two points until allowing a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in a 62-59 loss at No. 18 Minnesota. They led Wisconsin by nine points with six minutes left before giving up a game-tying 3-pointer late in regulation and eventually losing 74-70 in double overtime at the Kohl Center.
But the past didn't seem to bother the team entering Saturday's game.
"We're not going to stop," Iowa sophomore forward Aaron White said. "You see that from our head coach, Coach Fran (McCaffery), really one game at a time. No matter what we're going to keep battling. That's what we've done as a team."
"I think we've got a lot of character on this team," Gesell said. "It shows the coaches do a great job of keeping us focused and keeping us looking at the big picture and so we're right there. We just lost some close games. If we can get those to turn the other way, I think we'll be a dangerous ball club coming down the stretch of this season."