By Greg DeVries
The Baylor men’s basketball team will take on the Iowa Hawkeyes tonight in the NIT Championship game at Madison Square Garden. The game will tip off at 8 p.m.
The Hawkeyes are 25-12 on the season and are coming off of a 71-60 win over Maryland.
Junior wing player Roy Devyn Marble leads the Hawkeyes in scoring with 15.2 points per game. He has been a prolific scorer since the start of the NIT, averaging 24.25 points per game. During these four NIT games, he is shooting just under 50 percent from the field.
On the block, Iowa’s best player is 6-feet-8-inch sophomore Aaron White. White averages nearly 13 points per game and is the team’s best rebounder at 6.2 rebounds per game.
He has struggled from the field recently, shooting 2-9 in Iowa’s last two games, but his rebounding numbers are up from his season averages.
Senior guard Pierre Jackson has had the hot hand for the Bears over the last three games.
In that span, Jackson is averaging over 23 points and 13 assists per game.
“I have not seen enough of Iowa to know if Marble means as much as Pierre does for us,” head coach Scott Drew said. “I know Pierre is the straw that stirs our drink.”
Iowa is strong defensively and excels in defending half-court sets. The Hawkeyes only allow opponents to score 62.5 points per game.
They were the best rebounding team in the Big Ten and held their opponents to only 11.4 assists per game.
“Against Providence, we had five turnovers. [Tuesday we had] seven turnovers,” Drew said. “First and foremost, we need to take care of it because good teams are going to punish you on the other end by getting easy buckets. We need to continue doing what we’ve done, which is being very fundamentally sound with the basketball. Then hopefully we can get in transition as well because their half-court defense is tough.”
After a less-than-stellar performance against Providence, freshman center Isaiah Austin recorded a double-double against BYU despite some foul trouble.
“My team, they tell me all the time they need me to score,” Austin said. “So when I pass up shots when I’m missing them, they get frustrated at me. But they stayed positive with me the last couple of games, and I’m finally out of my slump.”
Senior guard A.J. Walton stressed the importance of getting a young prolific scorer like Austin into the offense early.
“It’s great for him being a freshman and first time playing in an atmosphere like this,” Walton said. “For him to see a couple buckets go in, it gets his confidence back, and he had a pretty good game. Him and [junior forward] Cory [Jefferson], they feed off each other pretty much.”
Jefferson has emerged as a consistent scorer for the Bears. He averaged 13 points per game this season, but during the NIT games, he has stepped up his game to average nearly 21 points per game on over 71 percent shooting.
“Cory has been outstanding, starting with the Kansas game,” Drew said. “From there on out he’s really been on a roll. Cory has had some great games during the season, but his consistency level has gone to another point in the NIT. I think as a coaching staff we just try to get him the ball more and more because he’s been so efficient.”
Walton said that an NIT Championship would be a great accomplishment for this team and a great way to end his career at Baylor.
“Oh, man, it would be big,” Walton said. “I feel like I’ve had a pretty good career here at Baylor. Two Elite Eights, and haven’t been able to bring any hardware or cut any nets down. So if we get to win this and do that and finally get something in our trophy case, it will say a lot about us and about our journey.”