After being previously unchallenged, Iowa appeared headed for its first loss Thursday, especially with its leading scorer sidelined. But the Hawkeyes' supporting cast showed its mettle with a comeback win, setting up a Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinal matchup Friday night against UTEP in the Bahamas.
No. 23 Iowa might need another balanced scoring effort against the Miners with Roy Devyn Marble's status unclear.
The Hawkeyes, who are 6-0 for the first time since 2003-04, steamrolled their first five opponents by an average of 32.2 points per game, but those teams own a combined 14-18 record. It took less than four minutes of Thursday's quarterfinal against previously 5-0 Xavier for Iowa to face its biggest deficit of the season, falling into an early 11-2 hole.
The second half wasn't much better with Iowa missing 13 of its first 15 shots and trailing by as many as 15. Marble was largely responsible for keeping the Hawkeyes in the game, finishing one point shy of a career best with 30 points before exiting with 2:06 left in regulation due to a severe leg cramp.
Iowa still managed a 77-74 overtime victory, despite not leading until 54 seconds into the extra period.
"With the team we have out there, we're so deep and versatile, we're in any game, whether we're down 20 at home or down 10," junior forward Gabriel Olaseni, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double, told the school's official website. "We always have the ability to come back because we have so many guys and coach trusts us. We always thought we could win this game."
Six different Hawkeyes average at least 7.7 points per game, though Marble's 17.2 lead the squad. Zach McCabe and Aaron White finished with 11 and 10 points respectively, though Iowa shot a season-low 35.3 percent from the field.
"You know what's interesting about our team, and I mean this sincerely, we've got so many different players who can score," coach Fran McCaffery said.
The Hawkeyes' defense, which entered holding teams to 31.2 percent shooting, allowed the Musketeers to go just 25 of 64 from the floor, including 6 of 24 from 3-point range.
They can secure a meeting with either No. 2 Kansas or Villanova in Saturday's title game with another victory, though they'll have to get through a UTEP squad coming off a 78-70 win over Tennessee.
The Miners (4-2) also enjoyed well-rounded scoring against the Volunteers, led by McKenzie Moore's career-high 19 points. Center John Bohannon scored 16 while Julian Washburn and Justin Crosgile each added 12.
Moore is averaging a team-high 15.0 points while shooting 54.2 percent.
"We played like our last game, our loss to New Mexico State, bothered us," coach Tim Floyd said, referring to last Saturday's 77-68 home defeat against the Aggies. "And it should have bothered us."
UTEP will likely need a much stronger effort on the glass after being outrebounded 46-28. Iowa averages a plus-8.3 margin on the boards.
These teams have split four all-time meetings.