Playing its fourth game in six days it would have been somewhat understandable if the Iowa basketball team played sluggish against a rested top 25 caliber opponent.
At the very least one might have expected the Hawkeyes to grow tired down the stretch, perhaps giving its quality opponent an opportunity to steal a game on the road.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, 15,400 black-clad Iowa fans and a blistering shooting performance by the home team had other ideas.
In front of a sold-out Carver Hawkeye Arena on “Blackout” night, the Hawkeyes downed the Fighting Irish to grab the first of two victories for its conference on Tuesday night as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. In a high scoring affair more reminiscent of an NBA game, Iowa came out on top with a 98-93 win IN REGULATION (hopefully fans across the country will finally quit whining about a lack of scoring in the college game now).
Buoyed once again by balanced scoring, Iowa had eight different players score at least six points, including five in double figures. The Hawkeyes were led by senior guard Devyn Marble (17pts), redshirt sophomore forward Jarrod Uthoff (17pts), and the game MVP Aaron White (20pts).
After an early cold start from the field, Iowa found itself thrust into the lead by its reserves. Not an unusual occurrence, the second unit got the crowd back into the game with its energy and offensive efficiency as the home team made up the early deficit held by the Irish.
From that point onward until the end of the half, the Hawkeyes seemed to make every shot they attempted, building a 52-43 lead after the opening 20 minutes on the shoulders of 19-33 (57.6%) shooting from the field and 11-12 (91.7%) shooting from the line. Nine different Iowa players scored, including eight with at least four points. One play in particular, a fall-away jumper from just inside the arc by Jarrod Uthoff with a hand right in his face as the shot clock approached zero near the end of the half, let spectators know that the Hawkeyes were in a rare shooting rhythm,
Despite Iowa’s torrid start, Notre Dame was able to remain within striking distance due to its own impressive shooting display. The Irish shot nearly 49 percent from the floor in the opening half, aided greatly by senior center Garrick Sherman’s 18 points. A layup at the buzzer off of an inbounds play cut the deficit to nine as the teams headed for their respective locker rooms.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first, with an early Notre Dame run. Iowa’s halftime lead was quickly erased and the Hawkeyes found themselves down 55-57 with 15:45 left.
The arena was quieted and a feeling of tension emerged as fans started to wonder if another second half collapse was in the making, much like the one that cost Iowa a tournament title against Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis just three nights earlier.
Looking for a spark, the Hawkeyes found one in its senior leader and leading scorer Devyn Marble. A combination of 3′s and aggressive drives to the basket over the next four minutes resulted in 13 consecutive points for Marble, a run that gave Iowa back the lead and was described by head coach Fran McCaffery as “the difference in the game.”
After another Notre Dame run, a put-back slam by Aaron White and a corner three from Jarrod Uthoff extended Iowa’s advantage once again.
Throughout out the remaining 6-7 minutes Iowa continued to hold the lead, but simply couldn’t put the Irish away for good.
A three-point play by Zach McCabe, multiple buckets inside by White, and clutch free throw shooting helped to maintain the Hawkeye lead despite Notre Dame’s best efforts to grab the advantage. In fact the final points of the game, two free throws by White with under a second to go, pushed the junior over the 1,000 career points milestone.
While Marble’s early second half scoring run may have been the most important stretch of the evening, White was undoubtedly the player of the game. A display of all-around excellence resulted in a stat line of 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists (a career high). Not only that, but the junior forward was about as efficient as a player could hope to be shooting the basketball, draining 7-9 shot attempts and a perfect 6-6 free throws.
White’s ultra-efficiency was actually reflective of the entire Iowa team on this hot-shooting night in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes took advantage every time they launched a shot towards the basket, finishing a ridiculous 33-58 (56.9%) from the field, 7-13 (53.8%) from three, and 25-29 (86.2%) from the charity stripe.
All in all the evening should be remembered for not only the impressive offensive display put on, but also the raucous home crowd that inhabited the arena. When McCaffery accepted the head coaching position at Iowa and said he wanted to get Carver Hawkeye Arena “rocking again”, I think this is probably what he envisioned. The energy and enthusiasm of the fans in attendance were at their highest levels in years, and the No. 23 ranked Hawkeyes will be looking for more of the same as the season continues.
Iowa will return to action this Saturday against Drake as a part of the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic in Des Moines. The Hawkeyes will look to secure their ninth win of the season against the 6-1 Bulldogs.