IOWA CITY — Always a student of the game, Devyn Marble has spent his spring break studying.

He’s traded books for game tapes in hopes of improving his overall performance, and Wednesday, the junior helped Iowa pass its first test in the National Invitation Tournament.

Marble scored 24 points to lead the Hawkeyes to a 68-52 opening-round victory over Indiana State at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but he didn’t stop there.

With Mike Gesell slowed by lingering injury issues and Anthony Clemmons struggling with his game, Marble contributed six assists, four steals and five rebounds while turning the ball over just once in 34 minutes of action to help the Hawkeyes advance.

“Dev really had to do a lot tonight and he just keeps getting better,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said. “He’s playing as well as anybody in the country right now, playing with great confidence.”

Marble’s work sends Iowa into a second-round home game at 8:30 p.m. Friday against Stony Brook, a 71-58 winner at Massachusetts on Wednesday.

“It’s the little things. I’m always working on the little things and trying to find ways to do things better,” Marble said. “You have to keep working at it.”

Recently, tape revealed to Marble that his defensive approach needed work and the Sycamores paid for that emphasis as Iowa pulled away from a 31-30 halftime lead.

“I hadn’t been getting the steals I used to get and that’s something I’m working on. It helps me get me going on offense,” Marble said. “Things like that can make a huge difference.”

A three-point play by Marble with 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the first half sparked a 13-4 run by Iowa, a surge which started with the defensive work of Eric May and Aaron White and led to Marble hitting White and Gabe Olaseni for dunks in transition as the Hawkeyes moved ahead to stay.

“Marble, he’s a stat sheet stuffer,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “He got their transition game going.”

And once Iowa (22-12) started, it didn’t stop. The Hawkeyes opened the second half with a 19-4 that put the game out of reach.

“In the second half, we got all out of whack,” Lansing said. “We turned it over on four of our first five possessions, settled for some quick threes. We got away from doing the things we needed to do. We were just all out of sorts.”

Indiana State (18-15) was within a 39-32 score when it was whistled following an inbounds for having six players on the court with 14:20 remaining.

Zach McCabe knocked down the two technical free throws and then buried the Sycamores by burying back-to-back 3-point baskets on Iowa’s next two possessions, extending the Hawkeye lead to 47-34 with 12:27 left.

“We just had to stay at it, keep working and let the game come to us,” McCabe said. “The free throws, they got me going a bit, gave me some confidence.”

After McCabe extended the Iowa lead to double digits, Indiana State came no closer than 13 points the rest of the game.

“We gave them some easy looks early on and they run some really good stuff, but you have to stay up into them,” McCaffery said. “It was imperative that we continue to get up and pressure them and essentially wear them down over the course of time.”

That allowed the Hawkeyes to limit the Sycamores to 8-of-24 shooting in the second half, during a game which Justin Gant lead Indiana State with 16 points while all-Missouri Valley Conference guard Jake Odum totaled just five points while mustering just six shots.

“Odum is a handful,” McCaffery said. “We changed how we played ball screens with him, pressed him a little, tried to take away his space and I think we got him a little bit sideways.”

Iowa items

- Mike Gesell struggled again with the stress reaction in his foot Wednesday, limited to 14 minutes and two points before calling it a night.

Coach Fran McCaffery said following the game he was “very concerned” about the injury and about Gesell’s availability moving forward in the tournament.

- Aaron White recorded his fourth double-double of the season and the eighth of his career, finishing with 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

- Wednesday’s sellout crowd of 15,400 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was the largest for an NIT game since 16,984 showed up to watch Creighton host Kentucky in 2009.

- The Hawkeyes won their NIT opener for the fourth time in Iowa’s seven appearances. Oregon ousted the Hawkeyes a year ago in the second round, 108-97.

- Steve Batterson is a reporter for the Quad-City Times, another Lee Enterprises newspaper.

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