IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa landed in the NIT instead of the NCAAs in large part because of late-game struggles. It seems the Hawkeyes have figured out how to close since entering the postseason.
Iowa staved off a number of late pushes by Stony Brook Friday night in a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena to capture a 75-63 victory in the NIT's second round.
"We're just making big plays down the stretch and we weren't doing that during the Big Ten season," junior Roy Devyn Marble said. "Now, we're starting to do that in this tournament. If we can continue to do that, I think we'll be alright."
Iowa heads to the quarterfinals where it will face the winner of Sunday's Virginia-St. John's game ( 10 a.m. CT, ESPN). The Hawkeyes likely would travel to Virginia and play host to St. John's at a date and time to be determined. Quarterfinal survivors go to New York's Madison Square Garden for the NIT Final Four.
The Hawkeyes (23-12) came into the NIT on a mission to win a championship after just missing out on the Big Dance. They had lost seven of nine conference games by four or fewer points in 2012-13.
"It's a long season and I think we're learning," sophomore Aaron White said. "We've had so many games that you look back on and we didn't close them correctly. We've put ourselves in position the last two games where we've taken care of business down the stretch. It's just maturity. Dev at the point is a good indication of why that's happening."
Marble continued his stretch of dominant play with 28 points, five assists and one turnover Friday night. In two NIT games, the Detroit native has averaged 26.0 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals. He has turned the ball over twice.
"I mean, he was phenomenal tonight," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "He set the tone in a lot of ways."
White contributed 13 points and seven rebounds, while teammate Melsahn Basabe went for eight and six. Sophomore Jameel Warney, to whom Iowa offered a scholarship in high school, paced the Seawolves with 17 points and seven boards.
Scrappy Stony Brook (25-8) wasn't intimidated by the raucous, partisan crowd. The teams exchanged the lead five times and were tied twice before the break. A Josh Oglesby three-pointer in the closing seconds sent the home team to the locker room with a 37-34 advantage.
After falling behind by 10 points, the Seawolves from the American East Conference pulled to within four of the lead midway through the second half on a four-point play by Anthony Jackson. Iowa collected itself behind its stars.
White started a 9-2 run with a mid-range jumper. Marble followed a Stony Brook miss with a trey. A pair of White free throws and a Marble driving lay-in put the home team up 65-54 with 5:32 on the clock.
The Seawolves got back to within seven points of the lead with two minutes remaining in the game after having several chances to score with the ball and an eight-point deficit. Gabe Olaseni picked Iowa up with a three-point play to get the lead back to double figures. Marble sank both ends of a one-and-one with 1:11 to play and the crowd rose to its feet as he realized their team would be playing more basketball this season.
"I watched a lot of tape and kept saying to my assistant coaches, "How is this team not in the NCAA Tournament?"" Stony Brook Coach Steve Pikiell said. "Coach Fran did a great job. He's got good players. The future looks really good here at Iowa, and it's disappointing we ended our season this way. It is the winningest season in our school history, and we fought until the end today, but they were better."
Senior %%MATCH_12%% started in place of %%MATCH_11%%, who missed Iowa's last regular season game with a bone injury in his foot. The freshman came off of the bench to contribute five points and three assists without a turnover in 19 minutes. McCaffery used him in stretches to keep him fresh and the pressure off his ailment.
"It helped," Gesell said. "We backed off of my minutes a little bit. I knew that when I was out there I just had to go hard. Tonight, my foot held up pretty well."