INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Another serving of the Northwestern Wildcats didn’t sit well with the slumping Iowa men’s basketball team.
Losers by 26 points in both regular-season games against Iowa, the Wildcats reversed the trend by eking out 67-62 victory in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Northwestern made 4-of-5 free throws in the final 26.6 seconds to secure its first victory over Iowa in six games.
The same problems that have plagued Iowa during its current skid, which now sits at six losses in the last seven games, surfaced again Thursday. Iowa only made six of 24 3-point attempts, while Northwestern hit on 11 of 23 treys.
“Earlier in the season we were defending a lot better,” said senior Devyn Marble, Iowa’s first-team all-Big Ten guard. “I think we’re giving up too many quality shots to opponents, and they’ve been making them. Anybody who is a Division I player, if you give them open looks they’re going to knock them down.”
Northwestern, seeded 11th in the tournament, improved to 14-18 with the victory and will face No. 4 seed Michigan State in the quarterfinals. The sixth-seeded Hawkeyes fell to 20-12 and now must wait until Sunday night to see if they’ve accomplished enough to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Marble was a force again on offense for the Hawkeyes, finishing with a game-high 25 points. Sophomore forward Jarrod Uthoff also provided a spark off the bench with 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting. The 6-foot-9 Uthoff, who had failed to score in double figures in the previous 14 games, also led Iowa with nine rebounds.
Starting point guard Mike Gesell struggled throughout the game on offense, missing all 10 of his field-goal attempts. Junior forward Aaron White scored Iowa’s first points, a 3-pointer, but had only five for the game and attempted just two shots while playing 28 minutes.
Iowa center Gabe Olaseni made two free throws to even the score at 45-45 with 9:13 to play.
Northwestern’s Tre Demps (20 points) then made a 3-point basket to give the Wildcats a 48-45 lead with 7:55 remaining.
Iowa narrowed the deficit to 64-62 when Uthoff made an old-school 3-point play with :20 to go.
But Northwestern’s Alex Olah drained two free throws with 17.7 seconds left, then Marble and Josh Oglesby (0 points) missed consecutive 3s to all but lock up the result.
The Hawkeyes missed seven of their first eight attempts from 3-point range. Senior Zach McCabe finally broke the cold streak by making a 3-pointer that trimmed the deficit to 14-12 with 10:36 left in the first half. His trey triggered a 16-5 scoring run, highlighted by Uthoff making three consecutive 3-point baskets, that helped Iowa build its lead to 28-21. However, the Wildcats closed the first half with a 10-3 scoring run, evening the score at 31-31.
Thursday’s loss continued an emotional week for Iowa players and coaches. Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday that his 13-year old son has a tumor on his thyroid.
The players showed their support by wearing T-shirts during pre-game warm-ups that said P-Mac in support of Patrick McCaffery, who attended Thursday’s game.
“We created them,” Marble said. “We love coach McCaffery and his family a lot. They’ve done a lot for all of us. And when one person is feeling down, we’re all feeling down. It’s one huge family, and we just wanted to show coach McCaffery that we had his back.”