IOWA CITY - Indiana State coach Greg Lansing opened his press conference singing the praises of the Hawkeyes.
From their steady improvement and exceptional coaching to their efficient transition game and intensity on the boards.
Though Lansing's next statement, coming on the heels off a 68-52 loss, may have served as the highest compliment of all.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Iowa sophomore center Gabe Olaseni, right, blocks the shot attempt of Indiana State’s Justin Gant during the first half of the Hawkeyes’ 68-52 win over the Sycamores in Wednesday’s NIT first-round game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa advances to play seventh-seeded Stony Brook in Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
"They didn't play that well tonight, otherwise it would have been a lot worse."
A scary thought for future Hawkeye opponents and an encouraging thought for Iowa after they thoroughly dominated the Sycamores in the second half for a runaway rout in the first round of the NIT at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Wednesday.
After outscoring Indiana State 13-4 over the last 5:09 of the first half to claim a 31-30 edge at the break, Iowa broke things wide open with a 19-4 blitz to start the second.
Devyn Marble highlighted the Hawkeyes' initial 8-2 burst with a layup and dunk before a Sycamores technical - resulting from six players on the court - sparked Iowa's next run. Rallying from an 0-for-5 start, Zach McCabe made both technical free throws and connected on back-to-back treys, before Josh Oglesby added another to stretch the gap to 50-34 with 10:35 to play.
Marble keyed the Hawkeyes' transition game, which the Sycamores were unable to counter.
"It's easier for us to run when I'm getting rebounds. We don't have to worry about an outlet (pass)," Marble said.
"If I get the rebound, I just go. It allows us to get out faster."
The Hawkeyes (22-11) never let their lead slip below 13 the rest of the night and though it may not have been one of their better outings overall (shooting 38.6 percent from the field and 69.2 percent from the line), the same could not be said for Marble.
Pouring in 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, the junior guard continued his late-season surge by tallying five boards, six assists, four steals and just one turnover.
The Hawkeyes needed every bit from Marble with a thinned out backcourt. Battling back from a foot injury, Mike Gesell was visually off a step and played just 14 minutes before hobbling off the court in the second half, while Anthony Clemmons never found a rhythm.
"Dev really had to do a lot to fight and he just keeps getting better," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of the junior who entered with an 17.6 scoring average over the last 11 games.
"He's playing as well as anybody in the country right now, without a doubt. (He) played with great confidence and I think everyone is feeding off of that."
The momentum extended past the final horn for the Hawkeyes, who just minutes later found out they'll return home for the second round to host seventh-seeded Stony Brook, which upset second-seeded Massachusetts 71-58 in Amherst, MA Wednesday.
Iowa, the fourth seed, entertains the Sea Wolves (25-7) Friday at 8:30 p.m. with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line.
Overcoming a poor shooting effort, the Hawkeyes held a hefty advantage in rebounds (42-27), second chance points (11-2) and points off turnovers (21-13). Aaron White led the effort on the glass, tying a career-best with 13 rebounds to go with 11 points, while Melsahn Basabe added nine points and eight boards.
Iowa also hunkered down defensively limiting first team All-MVC guard Jake Odum to five points on 2-of-6 shooting, while forcing him into six turnovers. Indiana State's second-leading scorer, Manny Arop, finished 10 points below his season average with two points, while Justin Gant led the Sycamores (18-15) with 16 points.
"I have not seem him turn it over as much as he turned it over tonight," said McCaffery of Odum.
"We changed how we are playing ball screens with him. We pressed him a little, we played zone and man. We tried to take away his space and we got him going a little bit sideways."
McCaffery couldn't discount the impact of the sellout Iowa crowd - and the excitement of returning home for a second round game.
"I think they love watching these kids play," McCaffery said.
"They have enjoyed watching them work. There have been times when we haven't been crisp, we haven't been real good, but we kept battling. We keep fighting and I think that's what our fans appreciate."
In a tournament the plays second fiddle to the Big Dance and has already seen a few top seeds go down, the Hawkeyes' fight could take them a long way.
And perhaps give the Iowa fans another home game to appreciate the effort first hand.
Wednesday's attendance of 15,400 is the largest attended NIT game on campus since Creighton hosted Kentucky in the second round in 2009 (16,984). It was Iowa's fifth sellout of the season (Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Indiana State), the most at Iowa in a season since the 2005-06 campaign also had five.