Hawkeye basketball needs Marble back to normal

BY TOM CLOS | JANUARY 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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Devyn Marble is desperately trying to get back to full strength in time for the Iowa men’s basketball team’s stretch run toward the NCAA Tournament.

His team desperately needs him.

Since the junior guard went down with an ankle injury in practice the day before the Hawkeyes met Michigan State on Jan. 10, the Black and Gold have gone 2-2 without their one player who can truly take over a game and hit shots seemingly at will.

Those two losses could wind up being costly come March.

Marble missed that date with the Spartans, and Iowa subsequently fell, 62-59. Had he played, the upperclassmen could have made a difference in what turned in the waning moments from a season-changing, résumé-boosting victory to one that got away.

The junior did return two days later at Northwestern, scoring 8 points in helping the Black and Gold blow out the Wildcats, 70-50. He also hit big free throws down the stretch in a 13-point night during Iowa’s 70-66 win over Wisconsin on Jan. 19.

On Tuesday, however, the Southfield, Mich., native went just 2-of-11 from the field and finished with 8 points in the Hawkeyes’ 72-63 loss in Columbus. Once again, a near NCAA Tournament-worthy victory turned into the third “what if” for the Hawkeyes this season.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said it’s been sort of a long process for Marble to get back to the role he is used to playing on the floor. He described how delicate ankle injuries can be for such an active player.

“[Devyn] has not practiced the same as everybody else,” McCaffery said last week. “I’ve had to be really careful with him.”

Marble played a game-high 36 minutes against the Buckeyes, and following the Wisconsin game, he insisted that he was all there aside from a lingering pain in his toe, an injury referred to as “turf toe.”

“On conditioning, I’m fine; really, it’s just my toe,” he said last week. “I’m working to get that back to full strength.”

He will try to get back to normal when the Hawkeyes head to West Lafayette to take on Purdue on Jan. 27.

The Boilermakers (10-8, 3-2 Big Ten) are one of the league’s hottest teams right now, riding a three-game winning streak until running into a buzz saw in Ann Arbor on Thursday night, and losing to Michigan, 68-53. The Boilermakers are led by the team’s leading-scorer junior guard Terone Johnson (13.3 points per game) and the Big Ten’s leading shot-blocker freshman center A.J. Hammons.

The meeting in West Lafayette will undoubtedly be a must-win for the Hawkeyes (13-5, 2-3) given Purdue’s very low RPI (135), but outscoring the hosts shouldn’t be much of an issue. The Boilers are the third-lowest scoring team in the league and rank 100th in the nation in offense — averaging 66.8 points per contest. Iowa ranks fourth in the conference (73.9 poiknts per game).

Freshman guard Mike Gesell feels that all games from here on out are must-wins, and he said the key for his team to get where they want to be this spring is to string together as many victories as they can, especially in favorable matchups.

“We know that we had a rough start to the Big Ten, and we have to get on a roll here now,” he said last week. “We’re still right in the race.”

The Hawkeyes may believe they are still in the race, but unless their most dynamic player returns to normal, they won’t be for long.

“I’m trying to find ways of being effective and aggressive with a little less quickness than I usually have,” Marble said last week. “I just need to keep being a factor on the court when I’m playing.”

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