Iowa hopes home-court momentum keeps going

IOWA CITY – The largest crowd for a National Invitation Tournament since 2009 was at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday and the energized Hawkeye fan base helped the Iowa men’s basketball team advance past Indiana State with a strong second half.

The Hawkeyes are hoping another sellout crowd is in store when they host seventh-seeded Stony Brook at 8:30 p.m. tonight.

“I think they love watching these kids play,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of the large crowds that have come back to Carver-Hawkeye this season. “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.”

The?third-seeded Hawkeyes were supposed to be traveling to second-seeded UMass in the next round, but Stony Brook had other ideas. The Seawolves are 24-7 this year and have won 13 true road games. They received a bid to the NIT after winning the America East Conference for the third time in four years. They went 14-2 in league play and Wednesday’s 71-58 win over the Minutemen was the first postseason win in school history.

“I know they went to UMASS and won, I know that much,” said McCaffery after Iowa’s win in reference to Stony Brook. “They have got Jameel Warney; he’s a guy we are familiar with. We offered him and tried to get him to come out here. He’s a kid from back east and wanted to stay back east. Player of the Year in the league, plays for a tremendous coach, phenomenal coach, and doing a great job building that program, so we have got our hands full with that one.”

Warney is averaging 12.2 points per game to lead the Seawolves. Tommy Brenton also leads the team in rebounds (6.8 rpg), assists (4.8 apg) and steals (1.7 spg).

Warney and Brenton are leading the offense, but the Seawolves have hung their hats on defense this year. Stony Brook is giving up just 57 points per game to its opponents, which ranks 12th nationally.

The Seawolves are third nationally with a .372 opponent’s field goal percentage average and Stony Brook is 21-1 when holding its opponent to less than 40 percent shooting and 20-0 when it holds an opponent to less than 60 points.

Roy Devyn Marble was the best player on the floor Wednesday as he scored 24 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out six assists all while primarily guarding all-MVC first-teamer Jake Odum at the other end. Odum was held to just five points and he turned it over six times on the night.

“He’s playing as well as anybody in the country right now, without a doubt,” McCaffery said. “(He) played with great confidence and I think everyone is feeding off of that.”

Marble is averaging 14.4 points per game and is scoring 17.6 ppg over his last 11 games. Aaron White also is coming off a double-double 11 point, 13-rebound effort Wednesday and is one of just four Big Ten players to score at least 13.1 points and grab at least 6.1 rebounds per game this year.

“We are going to continue to try to get wins,” said Marble. “We are not happy just to be here. We are trying to get the ultimate prize and win that championship.”

Iowa enters the game with a 17-2 record at home this season with the only two losses coming to nationally ranked Indiana and Michigan State.

Iowa may play the game without starting point guard Mike Gesell, who appeared to be effected by an ankle injury he suffered earlier this season. McCaffery said Wednesday after the game that he was “very concerned” about Gesell’s status.

Gesell is the Hawkeyes’ third leading scorer at just less than nine points per game.

The Hawkeyes and Seawolves will tip off at 8:35 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPNU. It is the first-ever meeting between the two schools, but Iowa is 4-0 against teams currently in the America East.

The Iowa-Stony Brook winner plays the winner of No. 1 Virginia and No. 5 St. Johns.

Iowa senior Eric May loves that he gets to play another home game in front of the Iowa fans. And he is hoping for a third game at CHA as well. For that to happen, though, Virginia would have to lose to St. Johns.

“I want to play two more here if that’s possible,” said May. “The fans have been great. We are really lucky to have fans like that. It will be good to get a third senior day too. I’m loving it. I’m excited. We all are.”