The Northwestern Wildcats men basketball team, once again, was blown out by a top ranked opponent, falling to the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes (17-4, 8-1 B1G) by a score of 85-71.
The ‘Cats, now 15-8 with a measly 3-7 record in Big Ten conference play, have lost five straight contests by an average of 20 points.
Northwestern remained highly competitive early in the first half, shooting at a high percentage, moving the basketball and suppressing the Hawkeye offense to remain within striking distance. After dialing up from distance on four of their first six three-point attempts, the ‘Cats found themselves tied at 18 with the third ranked powerhouse at the nine-minute mark.
This early success was short-lived however, as any early momentum from the Wildcats came to a screeching halt with a dominating 24-8 run by the Hawkeyes.
Short spurts in the second half of play, including a few flawless 7-0 runs, got the Wildcats back to within nine but never any closer. Although the Wildcats outscored Iowa in the second half 45-43, their 16-point halftime deficit was simply insurmountable.
NU’s defense had no answer for Iowa’s star contributors nor their depth. Big Ten Player of the Year front-runner Jarrod Uthoff poured in 23 points along with six boards and three rejections while junior guard Peter Jok had 26 points (along with four triples) in the winning effort.
Although this was NU’s fifth straight loss, there were in fact a few positive takeaways. Tre Demps, who tallied a career high 30 points and six three-pointers in the loss, broke out of his seemingly season long shooting slump with a bang, shooting an astounding 50 percent from the field. Additionally, Scottie Lindsey and Gavin Skelly had breakout performances, dropping 15 points and eight points respectively, registering a combined three-point percentage of 80 percent.
Interestingly enough, the ‘Cats and Hawkeyes finished the game with almost identical statistics. The ‘Cats shot 41.9 percent from the field, 36.7 from beyond the arc, and tallied 39 total rebounds and 13 assists; Iowa, meanwhile, shot 42.4 percent from the field, 36.8 from three-point range and had a total of 40 rebounds and 10 assists.
There were only two major discrepancies statistically, but both certainly had a huge effect on the outcome. NU was atrocious at the free-throw line, shooting 57.1 percent while registering 16 turnovers – six more than their opponents. For a team that has struggled in the past offensively, the importance of making free throws and securing the basketball cannot be emphasized enough.
The ‘Cats have eight games remaining on their regular season schedule, but it’s hard to believe they will be able to bounce back from five debilitating losses in succession. Likewise, this season’s biggest bright spot thus far, Bryant McIntosh, had only four points and was almost nonexistent during the Wildcats' surges of offense. Freshman sharpshooter Aaron Falzon shot an abysmal 0-for-8 from the field and was held scoreless.
The outcome for the rest of this season remains uncertain but contention for the NCAA Tournament is almost undoubtedly out of reach. All coach Chris Collins can do at this point is build upon NU’s youthful core, finish strong and look on to next year – a typical Northwestern sports state of mind.