UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It has become a familiar pattern for the Iowa basketball team.
Star players Devyn Marble and Aaron White have a quiet, unproductive first half, then come to life in the second half to lead the Hawkeyes to victory.
That formula worked again Saturday as the dynamic duo caught fire after halftime and carried 16th-ranked Iowa to an 82-70 victory over Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Marble and White each had just two points in the first half, but they combined for 27 after that. They got plenty of help this time from senior Melsahn Basabe, who led Iowa with 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots, and sophomore Mike Gesell, who hit three big 3-point field goals in the second half on his way to collecting 13 points and seven assists.
The Hawkeyes (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten), who have struggled at the free-throw line at times, closed out the Nittany Lions by making 26 of 30 foul shots in the second half.
“That’s how you put a team away …’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on his postgame radio interview. “We never felt like the game was in jeopardy.’’
The win gives the Hawkeyes a 4-2 record in Big Ten road games and it marked the first time since the 1997-98 season that they have won three straight conference away games.
“It just shows our development." Basabe said. “We’re getting better as a team. We still have a ways to go, but we’re getting there."
Led by Basabe, Iowa had the upper hand for most of the first half, but Penn State finished the half with a 12-2 run to grab a 33-31 halftime lead. D.J. Newbill, who led both teams with 22 points, had six points in the run, including a go-ahead drive to the hoop with 4.7 second left.
“In the first half I thought it came a little too easy early," McCaffery said. “We hit our first few shots and were up six, seven. At that point, I didn’t think our defense was where it needed to be.
“At halftime, we had to challenge the guys to play a little more physical and fight through contact because that’s the way Penn State plays."
The Nittany Lions (13-13, 4-9) still had a 44-42 edge with 13 minutes left, but then Marble and White took over, spearheading a 16-4 scoring run that gave the Hawkeyes a 58-48 cushion.
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They were in control from then on. Penn State got as close as five points (60-55), but the Hawkeyes responded with another 8-point run. Marble drained two free throws, Gesell hit a three from the right corner off a pass from White, White added a free throw and Marble made two more from the line to make it 68-55 with 2:31 remaining.
Penn State, which rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final minutes to beat Indiana on Wednesday and has staged other similar rallies this season, couldn’t recover from that.
“We have tremendous respect for them," Basabe said. “I think a lot of teams don’t have the proper respect for Penn State. We came in knowing their MO, knowing they were going to battle, knowing they have a gritty team."
Iowa, which has played at least 10 players in every game this season, had a shorter bench than usual Saturday and used only nine players.
McCaffery said reserve guard Anthony Clemmons sprained his ankle in practice and freshman Peter Jok has a knee contusion, which kept both of them out of action. Backup center Gabe Olaseni missed practice Friday because of the flu and Basabe also played fewer minutes in the second half because of the flu.