EVANSTON, Ill. – Gabe Olaseni swished a second-half baseline jumper, stuck out his tongue and made an “aw shucks’ gesture with his arms. It was a perfect Michael Jordan impression.
“I was just happy,” Olaseni said after No. 10 Iowa used a big second half to dismantle Northwestern, 76-50, before a pro-Hawkeye crowd of 8,117 Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. “I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
It was a rare show of theatrics for the junior center from London, England, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench as the Hawkeyes improved to 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten.
Jordan’s nickname was “His Airness.” Olaseni is called “British Airways” by his teammates, because of his ability to run and jump. He used those talents to record his third double-double this season, and first in a Big Ten game.
“He was really consistent,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He didn’t make many mistakes at all. He puts pressure on the opposition with his running ability. He guarded ball screens extremely well, which is very important against Northwestern. He was all over the glass. He finished around the basket.”
Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis has stressed to Olaseni that to be a good rebounder, you have to go get the ball. He had three offensive rebounds, including one that he caught with one hand and flushed for an impressive dunk.
“I found myself in a good position,” Olaseni said. “I didn’t want to come back down with it. So I decided to dunk it.”
Devyn Marble added 14 points, all in the second half, as Iowa outscored the Wildcats in the final 20 minutes, 46-26. Northwestern had won three of its four previous games, limiting those teams to an average of just 51 points and 29 percent shooting from the field.
Iowa, the leading offensive team in the Big Ten and sixth nationally entering the game, shot 51.9 percent.
Marble missed all three shots he attempted in the first half. He caught the wrath of McCaffery late in that half, and during the halftime break.
“He’s incredibly confident in himself and has an ability to take it and come back,” McCaffery said. “The way he played the second half is indicative of who he is. He recognizes what we need.”
Marble, who scored just one point in the first half against Minnesota and four in Wednesday’s loss at Michigan, said McCaffery told him “to just bounce back.”
Marble seemed upset after the game, adding, “I don’t know, I’m just irritable right now… I’ve got to find a way to get it going in the first half.”
Aaron White, Iowa’s No. 2 scorer, had just five points. He was scoreless in the first half against Minnesota and had one point in the first half at Michigan. On Saturday, he was happy to defer to Olaseni, his roommate.
“It was awesome,” White said. “He’s had so many good games this year. When he plays like that, we’re a much better team.”
Point guard Mike Gesell had an exceptional game, scoring 11 points and adding six assists to one turnover. He also limited Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb, who scored 18 points in a 93-67 loss at Iowa on Jan. 9, to just seven on Saturday.
“You expect six assists and one turnover from him,” McCaffery said. “He didn’t seem to tire. He hit a 3 that put us up 11, our first double digit lead. That was a huge basket for us.”
It gave the Hawkeyes a 41-30 lead with 15 minutes 46 seconds remaining. And then, with the lead 45-38, Marble scored seven points in an 11-0 run that buried the Wildcats. Iowa’s depth and defense were too much for Northwestern to counter.
“Really good team,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins after his team fell to 10-11 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten. “I really love what Coach McCaffery has done. This is a very dangerous team.”
Northwestern got a game-high 20 points from Drew Crawford, the Big Ten’s leading active career scorer. But the Wildcats shot just 36.4 percent from the field and attempted only nine free throws.
With Olaseni leading the charge, Iowa’s bench outscored Northwestern’s, 32-13. That was a far cry from Wednesday’s 75-67 loss at Michigan. The Iowa bench took a 36.3-point average into that game, but played tentatively and scored just eight against the Wolverines.
“It’s something we’ve come to expect, and it didn’t happen the last game,” McCafferty said of bench production. “But I suspected they would be ready (Saturday).”
Now it’s on to a Tuesday game against No. 3 Michigan State at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We have tremendous respect for Michigan State,” McCaffery said. “But we’ll be ready.”