Hawkeyes prove they are contenders with win at Ohio State

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 12: Adam Woodbury #34 of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Aaron White #30 of the Iowa Hawkeyes embrace after the end of the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 12, 2014 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State lost by a final score of 84-74.  

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Iowa Hawkeyes are contenders.

For the Big Ten title. For spots down the bracket line in that really big tournament in late March.

The Hawkeyes served notice in a breakthrough win Sunday at No. 3 Ohio State, overcoming a nine-point second-half deficit with a convincing finish to gain an 84-74 win and improve to 14-3, 3-1 in Big Ten play. It was a win three years in the making, really, as a talented team under fourth-year coach Fran McCaffery that’s been a non-threat in the loaded Big Ten and has made two straight NIT appearances now has a signature road win on a resume that should see it crack the NCAA tournament when that time comes.

With senior Roy Devyn Marble (22 points) and junior Aaron White (19) among five Iowa players to score in double figures as the Hawkeyes became the first team to crack 70 points in regulation on Ohio State, this Iowa team can now to look to grow its resume, not just hope to build one.

Buckeyes fall to Iowa 84-74

"My first year we beat Purdue when Purdue was ranked in the top five, but that was in the last game of the year," McCaffery said. "Last year we beat four ranked teams, but this was the first time we got one of these on the road. From that standpoint, yes, (calling it our biggest win) is a fair assessment."

After starting the year with 15 straight wins, Ohio State has now lost two straight. The Buckeyes got 22 points from LaQuinton Ross and the usual myriad contributions from Aaron Craft, but their defense couldn’t keep up with Iowa’s balance.

Iowa made just one of its first 10 3-point attempts before making three straight to erase the nine-point Ohio State lead and begin taking charge of the game, but the Hawkeyes got shots they wanted all day. Their first 10 points and 30 of their 37 in the first half came in the paint. Iowa also got 15 fast break points compared to just 4 by Ohio State.

"We wanted to control the tempo," Marble said. "I’m a confident guy. I don’t feel like anybody can guard me."

Said Mccaffery: "We attacked. Marble in particular was spectacular."

Ranked No. 23 in last week’s top 25 poll, the Hawkeyes are in line for a big jump of probably four or more spots in Monday’s poll. More importantly, they stay just a game off the pace in the Big Ten currently set by Wisconsin and Michigan State, tied for No. 4 in last week’s top 25, and Michigan.

Iowa has lost only to No. 10 Villanova on a neutral floor, No. 7 Iowa State on the road and most recently to No. 4 Wisconsin, a game in which McCaffery was ejected and subsequently suspended after a second-half blowup. All of those losses included second-half meltdowns, the Hawkeyes squandering leads and watching things slip away.

The opposite happened Sunday.

"It’s our biggest win because it’s a top-five opponent on the road," Marble said. "We came in knowing we had to learn to close out games, and we got it done. This team has aspirations and bigger goals and this is one step towards it. We feel like we can compete for and win a Big Ten championship, and this is one step towards it."

Said White: "It proves to us what we’ve thought all along, but we just haven’t executed. You look at our losses and they all feel (the same). We’re up in the first half and then we don’t make the plays. They made a run at us, we made a run back and then we made the key plays — took care of the ball, got rebounds, got good shots."

McCaffery said his team "handled its business" while he served a suspension last Thursday vs. Northwestern, blowing out the Wildcats and bouncing back from the Wisconsin game. He said he saw a professional approach in preparation for this game, too, which became Iowa’s first win over a top-five opponent since 2001 and first win in Columbus since 2004.

"It takes an incredible amount of character and toughness to handle this (stage), coming in here and not letting it get away when Ohio State got up nine. We answered that run. We have a tremendous amount of respect for (Ohio State coach) Thad Matta and all he’s done here, but this team in particular has shown tremendous reslience. And the only way we were getting out of here with a win is to have the same kind of resilience.

"Now, the challenge is that we have to go get another one."

The word is out. Iowa has a big road win, finally finished a game and can confidently look ahead. The Hawkeyes play at Michigan and vs. Michigan State later in January, then go to Illinois before hosting Ohio State in a Feb. 4 rematch.

That now has the chance to be a really, really big game. And not just because the Buckeyes are in town. Iowa has the talent to play with just about anybody, and over the next several weeks it has more chances to make that better known.