Iowa head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery had to feel good about his Hawkeye team being down two at halftime.
His two top scorers – Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White – had a combined one point and White had played just six minutes due to foul trouble in the first 20 minutes.
But once those two veterans finally got going, the end result was another win and the Hawkeyes really had trouble putting away the Gophers down the stretch as White scored all 18 of his points after halftime and Marble added 15 second-half points in No. 14 Iowa’s 94-73 win over the Gophers in front of a sell-out crowd of 15,400 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday.
Marble scored nine points in the first two minutes of the second half to put Iowa ahead for good and then White closed the door on a late Gopher comeback with 10 points in the final 6 minutes as Iowa scored more than 90 points for the sixth time this season and won its 20th consecutive home game.
“You're sitting there at halftime and you're thinking, okay, we're down two, but Marble and White have one point,” McCaffery said. “I feel pretty good about their involvement in the second half and their ability to effect some change out there, and boy, did they ever.”
Iowa led by as many as 22 points in the second half but trailed by 10 with 1:13 to go in the first session after Minnesota went on a run.
Mike Gesell cut into that lead with a layup and then Josh Oglesby drained back-to-back 3-pointers and Iowa trailed by just two at the break.
Oglesby hit all four of his triples in the first half and kept Iowa in the game with 14 points. That allowed Marble and White to take over the final 20 minutes, helping Iowa claim its 15th win of the season.
“Josh was obviously really, really good in that period,” McCaffery said. “We went to him, and he was on fire. But we also got a few stops. That gave us great momentum.”
Oglesby ended up with a season-high 17 points and five 3-pointers. Gabe Olaseni scored 12 points and Gesell finished with 11 points and five assists to give Iowa five players in double-figures for the second straight game. It also was the 12th time this year that at least four Hawkeyes have been in double-figures.
"A big thing I took away from today is the success of the guys that came in and stepped in for us," said White. "JO (Oglesby) stepped in with some big 3s, Gabe (Olaseni) had a big first half, Zach (McCabe) played well the whole game and right on down the line.
"People came in and affected the game in a positive way and kept us in it. When we (Devyn and I) turned it around in the second half, we broke open the game and got our lead."
Zach McCabe hit a big 3-pointer and added a crucial three-point play in the final 15 minutes. He scored eight points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists, helping Iowa’s bench outscore the Minnesota reserves 43-18.
“Yeah, and it was great to see Zach get eight,” McCaffery said. “His offense had not been there for a couple games, but he had been playing really well, and he's incredibly valuable as a leader, as an experienced guy.
“When you're having 40 points off the bench, it presents all kinds of problems for them because they were trying to figure out do we play the 2 2 1, do we play the zone, do we play the man because they've got offensive weapons at a lot of different places and they're going to go a lot of different places to get baskets.”
Iowa clung to a three-point lead with 15:41 to go but slowly pulled away behind Marble and White down the stretch.
The Hawkeyes (15-3, 4-1) got that three-point play from McCabe, a layup off his own steal from White and another layup from Olaseni before Marble made it a 10-point advantage with a triple. He then added a jumper and Jarrod Uthoff scored inside to keep the lead at double-figures.
"They keep coming with guys," said Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino in reference to Iowa’s depth. "You look at how they go deeper and deeper in their bench and there's no drop-off."
Minnesota didn’t quit though. The Gophers (14-5, 3-3) scored five straight to get the deficit to seven with 8:01 to go and then were within six two different times. The second time came with just less than 6 minutes on the clock.
It was at that time that White took over the game and carried Iowa to the home win.
Following Oglesby’s fifth and final trey, White converted a three-point play and sunk seven of his eight free throws to keep the Gophers out of reach. McCabe added a free throw and his lone 3-pointer during that stretch, too.
“I don't think it'll mislead anybody. I really don't. We were at home, we pulled away from them at the end,” McCaffery said. “It was a much closer game, I think, than the score would indicate.
“This is a team that's for real. They're going to be a difficult team for everybody that plays them the rest of the year.”
After logging just six minutes in the first half, White finished 4-of-5 from the floor and 10-of-11 from the line in the game. The Hawkeyes had just 10 turnovers, made nearly 50 percent of their shots and connected on 27-of-37 from the foul line. They also had 21 second-chance points and out-rebounded the Gophers 40-33.
Andre Hollins had 20 points to lead the Gophers, while Austin Hollins chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds.
Andre Hollins did most of his damage in the first half, keeping the Gophers in the game with 18 points. The Hawkeye defense did a much better job in the second half of containing him.
"Andre Hollins was our primary focus (defensively in the second half)," said McCaffery. "When a guy that talented gets away from you like he did, we were lucky to be down two. So we locked into him."
The Hawkeyes return to action Wednesday, heading to Ann Arbor to face Michigan beginning at 6 p.m.
There is a good chance that that contest could be a matchup of two ranked teams. The Wolverines are still unbeaten in Big Ten Conference play.
“If you can't get up to play against Michigan, then come on, there's something wrong with you,” McCaffery said. “You're at Michigan, they're in the national championship game last year, they're undefeated in our league. That should be enough.”
Iowa has a really good chance of jumping into the top 10 of the national polls Monday. Iowa State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kentucky are all ranked ahead of Iowa in the current poll but all were defeated last week. The Cyclones, Badgers and Buckeyes each lost twice as well.
“I just think it's irrelevant,” McCaffery said in response to being ranked in the top 10. “It's where are you ranked at the end of the year. It speaks to the fact that we're a good team. It gets more people talking about my players, our players, and I'm happy for them that people are saying that about them because they're the ones that did it.
“I don't want to shortchange what they've done. But in terms of how I look at it, I really couldn’t care less.”