CHICAGO – Devyn Marble scored 19 points to help Iowa hold on for an important 73-59 victory over Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday night.
Mike Gesell added 11 points, including a clinching three-point play with 1:41 left as the Hawkeyes (21-11) continued their late-season push for a spot in the NCAA tournament with their eighth victory in 10 games.
Reggie Hearn powered a late Northwestern's rally after an awful start, scoring 14 of his 19 points in the second half. He drove inside to trim Iowa's lead to 50-43 with 8:27 left, but Marble and Gesell each hit a big 3-pointer to help the Hawkeyes hold on for their third consecutive victory.
Melsahn Basabe had 10 points and 12 rebounds for Iowa, which shot just 37.1 percent but enjoyed a 48-31 advantage on the boards.
Alex Olah scored 12 points for Northwestern (13-19) and Tre Demps finished with 11.
Iowa's third win this season against Northwestern likely won't help its case very much, but a victory over No. 8 Michigan State in the quarterfinals could go a long way to earning an at-large bid.
Iowa faced Michigan State way back on Jan. 10 and pushed them all the way to the brink before losing 62-59 at home. The game was tied at 56 with 1:04 left, but Keith Appling made four free throws down the stretch to lead the Spartans to the victory.
Northwestern dropped its last nine games of the season and 11 of 12 overall, putting coach Bill Carmody's job in jeopardy after 13 years at the school. The Wildcats lost four players to season-ending injuries, but it was their worst record since they went 8-22 during the 2007-08 season.
Iowa opened the game with a 15-2 run, using its stifling defense to disrupt Northwestern's sets while keeping the Wildcats off the glass with a dominating rebounding effort. The Hawkeyes were working on a shutout before Nikola Cerina wriggled free for a layup with 12:32 left.
Boosted by a strong contingent of fans clad in yellow and black, Iowa kept up the pressure and put together a 14-2 spurt to open a 29-11 lead. Eric May capped the surge with a drive right down the middle of the lane and a big slam with 5:10 remaining.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap