IOWA CITY — It only took the Iowa basketball team about 2 hours to answer an awful lot of questions Saturday.
Such as: Are the Hawkeyes capable of shooting 3-point field goals well? Can they find a way to cope with one of the Big Ten’s best players? Does Devyn Marble really deserve to be regarded among the league’s elite players? Can the Hawkeyes find a way to beat any of the Big Ten’s big boys?
The answers: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Fueled by a torrid start by Marble, the Hawkeyes played arguably their best game of the season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, romping to an 85-67 victory over 10th-ranked Michigan that really wasn’t as close as that score indicates.
The Hawkeyes led by 14 points at halftime and by as much as 27 in the latter stages of the second half.
Head coach Fran McCaffery wasn’t afraid to say it: Best game his team has played this season “if you look at the way we played both ends."
No one was in a mood to quibble.
“I wouldn’t deny that at all," center Adam Woodbury said.
“It would have to be right up there," sophomore guard Mike Gesell said.
“I would agree with him," added forward Aaron White. “On both sides of the floor against that caliber a team. We really got after it at the defensive end. I don’t know why we haven’t played that way in the last two home games, but it was great to see. When we play like that, we’re a tough team to beat."
The 17th-ranked Hawkeyes, who lost their previous two home games to Michigan State and Ohio State, avenged an earlier 75-67 loss in Ann Arbor, bumped Michigan out of first place in the Big Ten and kept alive their trend of not losing consecutive games this season.
They certainly impressed Michigan coach John Beilein, who used the word “buzzsaw" to describe what his team encountered.
“They punched us early and it was hard to respond," Beilein said.
Marble, who grew up in the suburbs of Detroit as a Wolverines fan, did most of the early punching. He knocked down three 3-point field goals in the first 4 minutes and by halftime he had six threes and 22 points. He finished with 26 points in what Beilein described as “a player of year caliber performance."
“I’ve had my fair share of games of just being inactive in the first half," Marble said. “I wanted to be just a little more aggressive this time. Guys like Mike were doing a good job of getting me the ball in spots where I can score."
Gesell assisted on the first four baskets of the game and matched a season high with eight assists while also scoring 10 points of his own.
“When you have a guy get hot like Dev did, that’s a point guard’s dream," Gesell said. “You just keep trying to get him the ball."
The Hawkeyes had all sorts of offensive superlatives. They had 22 assists on 29 made field goals, were 10 for 17 from 3-point range after going 3 for 20 Tuesday against Ohio State and they went 12 ½ minutes into the game before they committed their first turnover .
And they didn’t just prosper at one end of the court.
“They won the game with defense," Beilein said. “They just had a tremendous game defensively. We couldn’t get anywhere we wanted to go."
Marble had a lot to do with that, too. He took on the task of guarding sophomore Nik Stauskas, who burned the Hawkeyes for 26 points in the earlier meeting. Stauskas got off just six shots this time and finished with 10 points.
“They made a lot of adjustments," Stauskas said. “They made switches on ball screens and handoffs, and made it tough to get open looks. Then they clogged up the lane and made it tougher to get in there."
The Wolverines (17-6, 9-2 Big Ten), led by Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin, made a few runs. They seemed to be getting back in the game late in the first half before Marble drained his sixth three as the half was ending to make it 43-29.
The Hawkeyes (18-6, 7-4) came out with renewed vigor in the second half and built the lead to as much as 72-45 at one point.
“We kept fighting and trying to come back, but they kept making shots, hitting threes," said LeVert, who led Michigan with 22 points. “It was tough to crawl back in the game.’’
McCaffery was proud of the way his team fought back from its recent struggles although he rejected the notion that his team played with “desperation."
“We knew we had to come out with a lot of energy," Gesell said. “We were preaching that all week. We felt like maybe we were a little flat against Ohio State and we really were able to turn that around tonight."