Fran McCaffery’s faith was rewarded Saturday.
Iowa’s coach had been saying all season that his team is loaded with good perimeter shooters despite the statistics suggesting otherwise.
The Hawkeyes finally proved McCaffery right by making a season-high 12 3-points baskets during an 80-73 victory over Northern Iowa in the first game of the inaugural Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I was really surprised that we had some games where we hadn’t shot it well,” McCaffery said. “I felt like we had multiple 3-point shooters and we saw that today.”
Iowa had five players who made at least one 3-point basket, with junior swingman Devyn Marble and freshman combo guard Mike Gesell leading the way with four apiece.
Marble led Iowa with 30 points, which is one point shy of his career-high, while Gesell finished with a career-high 23 points.
Gesell was hot early, making three of his treys before the midway point of the first half.
“He got me going,” Marble said of Gesell. “I saw him making threes so I wanted to make a three. I think we feed off each other like that.”
Iowa made its first five 3-point shots of the game and finished 12-of-25 from 3-point range overall. Northern Iowa was just 3-of-16 from 3-point range, but compensated by making 14-of-17 free throws and by shooting 55.2 percent from the field in the second half.
The teams also had similar rebounding totals and Northern Iowa only committed 10 turnovers, whereas Iowa committed 15 turnovers, including 13 in the first half.
The Panthers just couldn’t make up for the difference in 3-point shooting.
“Certainly, the difference in the first half and maybe the difference in the game was that early stretch with Marble and Gesell,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “Marble hasn’t taken that many threes. Usually, he’s a little more selective.”
Gesell and Marble entered Saturday’s game having made just 11 and 10 3-point baskets, respectively this season. Iowa entered the game shooting just 30.4 percent from 3-point range as a team.
“I was just coming out and being aggressive, and Devyn’s shot started falling, too,” Gesell said. “He was being aggressive and that’s what we need out of him. He’s definitely a scorer on this team and he did a great job of that (today).”
Marble credited Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis for getting him in the right frame of mind to play Saturday.
“I got into a rhythm,” Marble said. “I wanted to come out and be aggressive. Coach Andrew (Francis) told me to come out and be smart and aggressive at the same time. And I felt like I did a really good job of that.”
Iowa improved to 9-2 and will play its next-to-last nonconference game against South Carolina State on Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena before closing the nonconference schedule against Coppin State on Dec. 22 at home.
Northern Iowa fell to 6-4 and had a three-game winning streak snapped.
Jacobson said he wasn’t sure without watching the game on tape why Iowa was so successful from 3-point range, especially during the early stages of the first half.
“I have to watch that first 10 minutes to see,” Jacobson said. “A couple of those were from behind the NBA (3-point) line.
“But I’m going to have to watch to see if it was ones where we made a defensive mistake or a scouting-report mistake and that’s what led to it. Or if we were doing what we were supposed to and the ball ended up with one of those two guys and they just rose up and knocked it in.”
Iowa led 40-32 at halftime and then used a 9-0 scoring run in the second half to quell a Panther rally. Junior forward Melsahn Basabe triggered the scoring run by making his only basket of game to give Iowa a 61-55 lead with 7 minutes, 31 seconds left to play.
McCaffery referred to Basabe’s jumper in the lane as one of the biggest baskets in the game. Iowa also made 11-of-14 free throws in the final 1:17 to secure the victory.
This marks the first time since 2008 that Iowa has defeated Northern Iowa and Iowa State in the same season. Iowa defeated Iowa State 80-71 on Dec. 7 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Saturday’s game also showcased Iowa’s depth, considering that center Adam Woodbury and point guard Anthony Clemmons combined for just one point and only played 11 and nine minutes, respectively.
Sophomore center Gabe Olaseni helped pick up the slack for the 7-foot-1 Woodbury by scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench.
McCaffery praised Olaseni for staying focused and upbeat despite not playing in the previous game against Iowa State.
“A lot of kids would be really upset with me, with everybody else,” McCaffery said. “He had the best week of practice he’s ever had. He just keeps coming. So I made sure I got him in. I felt like he could play well.”
Another sign of Iowa’s depth is that leading scorer Aaron White only took five shots and scored seven points, and yet his team still prevailed, thanks largely to its 3-point shooting.
“I’m with these guys every day in practice, and I’m telling you we’ve got good shooters,” White said. “Coach (McCaffery) knows that. He’s not lying to you guys. That’s why he trusts us.”
Iowa also got a solid contribution from its lone senior Eric May, who finished with a game-high seven assists while playing 24 minutes off the bench.
May was determined to leave Wells Fargo Arena with a better feeling than last season when Creighton pounded the Hawkeyes 82-59 on the same court.
“I’m proud of how my team played, and I’m proud of how I played,” May said. “I feel like I gave it my all out there and did whatever we had to and it was enough.
“So to go out like this is a lot better than what we had last year at Wells Fargo.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball