Marble's play revives Hawkeyes ahead of Nebraska showdown

BY TOM CLOS | FEBRUARY 22, 2013 5:00 AM

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There comes a point in each season when a team simply needs its best player to be the best player.

The Iowa men’s basketball team reached that point following a devastating 74-70 double OT loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 6, when its best player, junior guard Devyn Marble, shot 1-of-10 and scored 2 points.

It was clear after the defeat that Marble had to break out of his midseason funk in a hurry and carry the Hawkeyes, or they would have no chance of making a run in March.

Two and a half weeks later, his funk is gone, and the march toward March is on.

Since his no-show performance in Wisconsin, Marble has posted three-consecutive dominant outings, leading Iowa to wins over Northwestern, Penn State, and Minnesota.

The winning streak, coupled with the Gophers’ high RPI number, has vaulted the Hawkeyes out of the depths of an NIT lock and back into the NCAA Tournament picture — though, it remains just in the realm of possibility as of this weekend.

The Southfield, Mich., native put up back-to-back 20-plus point nights against the Wildcats (21) and Nittany Lions (22) as well as added a game-high 15 points in the triumph over the Golden Gophers. Marble was also 20-for-23 (87 percent) from the free-throw line in the three contests.

Though most people around the program were perplexed by Marble’s sudden drop-off in production, the upperclassman said it was nothing more than a simple dry spell that he had to eventually play his way out of.

“I didn’t really call it a slump — that was more the media,” Marble said after the Minnesota game. “It was a rough stretch, and you’ll have those. I just had to settle down and make shots.”

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery had the option to bench his star guard during the rough times, but he knew his player too well, and he told Marble following the victory over Minnesota how he is and always was the Hawkeyes’ man.

“I just said look, ‘you’re my guy. I’m staying with you and I’m going to keep running stuff for you late’,” McCaffery said after the Minnesota game. “Just be who you are, and we’ll be fine.”

Marble is averaging 19 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists during the hot stretch — one that the Hawkeyes not only desperately needed 16 days ago but will contine to need for the rest of the season.

The good thing for Iowa is that its best player is up for the challenge.

“I’m a junior now, and I’ve been practicing and working out since the summer. I know it’s a grind,” Marble said after the Minnesota game. “Coach has been trying to keep me motivated and working at it and moving on to the next day after each game. And now we hit the road.”

Hawkeyes make delayed trip west

Iowa thought it had a nice layoff between games with its trip to Nebraska originally scheduled for Thursday, but thanks to a winter storm, the game has been pushed back to Saturday with a 1 p.m. tip.

The Huskers (12-14, 3-10 Big Ten) have seen several improvements in head coach Tim Miles’ début season, yet the team is still one of the worst squads in the Big Ten. Nebraska enters having lost two-straight games — the last being a 73-64 home defeat to Michigan State.

Though the Huskers are a league bottom feeder, they still feature one of the conference’s best guards in senior Dylan Talley. He averages 13.8 points per game — tied for 10th-highest in the Big Ten.

“We really have to get ready for these guys because they’re such a tough team at their place,” senior guard Eric May said after the Minnesota game. “We’ve got to take a big step forward and really prepare to head up there.”

McCaffery knows that each contest from this point on will be magnified to its highest power come NCAA Tournament selection and that a loss to a team of Nebraska’s caliber will be deadly.

But he’s also aware that it won’t be easy to leave Lincoln victorious, because it never is in the Big Ten.

“Timmy [Miles] has done a great job. I really like their team,” McCaffery said in his weekly teleconference. “They’re going to challenge us in a lot of ways, and we just have to be ready for them.”

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