The Northwestern Wildcats (10-11, 3-5 Big Ten), managed to keep things competitive with the Iowa Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-2 Big Ten) in an ugly, defensive first half, but simply could not maintain the intensity en route to a 76-50 home loss.
“To me it’s not about all the things we didn’t do, I thought we played really hard,” head coach Chris Collins said. “For 23 minutes we were right there, and then I thought their experience, their depth, their athleticism just wore us down in the second half.”
Drew Crawford led the ‘Cats with 20 points and four rebounds in 37 minutes. The only other Northwestern player in double figures was Tre Demps, who scored 11.
The Hawkeyes, who came in ranked 10th in the nation but on the heels of a disappointing road loss to Michigan, struggled to take care of the ball in the first half despite shooting 50 percent from the floor.
Iowa’s 10 first half turnovers were a major reason this was a 30-24 affair at halftime, even though the Wildcats were shooting just 31 percent in the first 20 minutes.
Northwestern came into the game having won three of their last four games, including then-No. 23 Illinois and Indiana, but wilted down the stretch offensively after pulling within four points with 17 minutes remaining.
Early in the game, the Wildcats attempted to get the ball in the hands of big man Alex Olah, but Olah struggled against the aggressive, collapsing defense of Iowa and did not score from the field until the game was already decided with four minutes left. He finished 2-of-9 from the floor with eight points, four rebounds and four blocks in 35 minutes.
When asked about whether the team would shift its focus away from Olah’s inside presence because of his early struggles, Crawford stressed the faith the ‘Cats have in their sophomore big man.
“That’s something that we’re not going to change, because we have all the confidence in the world as a team in Olah,” Crawford said.
With every Wildcat but Crawford unable to consistently get into the paint and create a shot, Northwestern was forced to jack up three-pointers and long, contested twos. As a result, the team shot just 20 percent from beyond the arc and 36.4 percent overall. Meanwhile, Iowa shot 41.7 percent from deep and 51.9 percent from the field.
Playing most of the game with a small lineup featuring Olah as the lone true big man, the Wildcats could not keep up with the veteran Hawkeyes on the glass. Iowa outrebounded Northwestern 44-20 in total and 13-5 on the offensive glass.
That dominance on the boards was key, because Iowa’s leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble, shot just 3-of-8 on his way to 14 points. He did get to the line seven times, but Marble was not the consistent offensive force he has been during Iowa’s tremendously successful first half of the season.
After the game, both Collins and Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery highlighted the depth of the Hawkeyes versus the comparatively thin Wildcats.
“Our margin for error is so slim,” Collins said. “For them it’s okay if Aaron White and [Roy] Marble don’t score in a half, they have other guys. If Drew and JerShon [Cobb] don’t score in a half we may not score in double figures.
Saturday’s game also marked the return of junior point guard Dave Sobolewski, who missed the previous four contests with a concussion. Sobolewski played 10 scoreless minutes off the bench, but did notch three assists despite playing more off the ball than usual.
After the game Sobolewski said he felt fine physically, but acknowledged that he could not study Northwestern’s game film while recovering from the concussion.
With Sobolewski limited, the ‘Cats used JerShon Cobb primarily at the point, and the junior responded with five assists, tying his second highest total of the year.
Despite the ultimately lopsided score, Northwestern actually played much better than in their previous matchup with Iowa, a 67-93 loss in which the Wildcats faced a 15-point halftime deficit and could never catch up.
Iowa’s next game is a showdown at home against No. 3 Michigan State that could have major Big Ten title implications down the road. The ‘Cats have a tough task ahead of them as well, as they head to Madison to face the No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers.