It's that time of the year when people predicting NCAA Tournament participants discuss resumes. Key wins and bad losses make up a big part of it. While Iowa doesn't have a bunch of the former, it's impressively without any in the latter.
The 16th-ranked Hawkeyes avoided losing to a lower-division Big Ten team again Saturday by outlasting gritty Penn State, 82-70, in State College. The Nittany Lions led by two at halftime.
"In the first half, I thought it came a little easy, early," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said during his Hawkeye Radio Network post-game interview. "We hit our first couple shots. We're up 6, 7. I just didn't think at that point our defense was where it needed to be.
"We needed to challenge the guys at halftime to be a little more physical, to play a little tougher, play through contact. To a man, we did that."
Senior Melsahn Basabe led four Iowa players in double figure scoring with 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor and 4 of 4 from the foul line. Classmate Roy Devyn Marble added 15, Aaron White 14 and Mike Gesell 13 for the winners. Basabe grabbed a game-high eight rebounds and White pulled down 7.
"Today I was active and played with energy," Basabe said in his Hawkeye Radio Network post-game interview. "I've been pretty consistent with that this season. We just have a talented team so not all the time is my night. But when it is my night, I like to be on point."
The Hawkeyes (19-6 overall) moved to 8-4 in the conference, giving them a stronger hold on third place and keeping them within striking distance of first-place Michigan and Michigan State, both 10-2. Fourth-place Wisconsin sits at 7-5 with a Sunday game at Michigan upcoming.
Try as it might, Iowa couldn't shake the Lions (13-13, 4-9) for much of Saturday's game. A John Johnson lay-up pulled PSU to within five points of the lead, 60-55, with 4:08 left .
"We have tremendous respect for them. We don't underestimate them," Basabe said on the radio. "I think a lot of teams don't have the proper respect for them and that's why Penn State, not upsets people, but wins games because they deserve to win the games.
"We came in here knowing their M.O.; knowing they're going to battle; knowing their a gritty team and we wanted to play consistent over a 40-minute game."
The Hawkeyes answered the challenge. Marble hit a pair of free throws. Then Brandon Taylor missed a 3-point attempt before Gesell sank a trey. Penn State missed its next two shots while White added a free throw and Basabe hit two of his own to give the visitors' a 13-point lead with 2:31 to play.
The Lions went into foul mode at that point. Iowa iced it by hitting 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch.
"I'm happy for this victory," Basabe said on the radio. "I've been here since the beginning and I see how far we've come. We battled today. In the first half, we weren't playing our best basketball but they were giving us a lot of punches.
"This is one of the sweetest victories. It's not the most glamorous."
McCaffery said in his radio post-game interview that reserve guards Anthony Clemmons and Peter Jok were unavailable due to injury. The coach said Clemmons sprained his ankle in Friday's practice and Jok suffered a knee contusion a day earlier.
As a result, Marble (34), Gesell (30) and Josh Oglesby (18) divided up the back-court minutes.
"I told them before the game, "You guys are going to play a ton of minutes, now. I'm just going to rotate the three of you and you got to get us home." And they did," McCaffery said on the radio.
The Iowa defense frustrated high scoring Lions senior Tim Frazier. The guard finished with 11 points on 4 of 17 shooting from the floor. When he penetrated, the Hawkeyes helped and blocked 10 shots.
"When we needed stops, we were contesting and rebounding," McCaffery said on the radio. "That was so impressive to me."
Iowa outscored the home team, 31-15, from the foul line and turned the ball over just six times. The Hawkeyes moved to 13-0 when holding opponents to 70 points or less this season.
Iowa returns to action on Tuesday with a game at Indiana.
"Very difficult place to play at Indiana," McCaffery said on the radio. ""But we've had a road toughness about us that I've been impressed with. They'll lock into the game plan and we'll be ready."
TIP-INS: This is the first time the Hawkeyes have won three straight Big Ten road games since the 1997-98 season…Marble is the only player to score 10+ points in every Big Ten game this season…Marble scored 10 of his 15 points at the free throw line…Marble shot 10-12 from the free throw line -- Setting his Big Ten high in both attempts and makes…Iowa's six turnovers are the fewest Iowa has recorded in Big Ten play…the Hawkeyes shot 31-40 from the free throw line -- Setting a team high in both attempts and makes in Big Ten play…Gesell tied a career high with 4 three pointers…McCaffery said that Gabe Olaseni missed practice Friday with stomach sickness and Basabe dealt with the same thing in the second half.