When looking back, the 2012-13 season will probably be regarded as a disappointing year riddled with bad luck. But from Drew Crawford’s first bucket four seconds into the season opener up until the United Center's scoreboard ticked away its final seconds, the Northwestern Wildcats played things close, in spite of the odds against them.
A slow start was ultimately too much for the 'Cats (13-19, 4-14 Big Ten) to overcome, and their season ended in a 73-59 loss to Iowa (21-11, 9-9) in the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.
Senior guard Reggie Hearn led the Wildcats with 19 points and 10 rebounds in his final game for Northwestern, while freshman center Alex Olah posted one of his best performances of the season, contributing 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
The Wildcats are no strangers to slow starts, but even this one was a little surprising. Iowa got the ball down low early and often, and the 'Cats could not get comfortable in their sets. They were hurt by several early turnovers and couldn’t get any open looks inside the three-point line.
The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, found themselves in the lane right away, and when Northwestern tried to pack in the defense, sophomore guard Josh Oglesby knocked home a three to make it 9-0. The lead probably should have been larger if not for a few careless turnovers.
“I think at the beginning, we weren’t executing our offense very well,” Hearn said. “And we obviously weren’t playing defense well initially, and we just got into a big hole.”
7:28 in, junior forward Nikola Cerina finally put the Wildcats on the board with a layup, but the Northwestern defense couldn’t keep Iowa out of the lane even after it switched to a 2-3 zone. Junior guard Roy Devyn Marble took a handoff and a little brush screen, and he went down a wide open lane for a finger roll to make the score 15-2.
After Carmody was forced to use his second timeout, Northwestern shored up the zone and forced Iowa to shoot jumpers. And on the other end, the offense began to flow better, with Olah able to get to the rim off the pick-and-roll.
The 'Cats mounted a bit of a comeback, but whenever things seemed to get close, Iowa had an answer. The most emphatic response came when senior guard Eric May came down the lane and powered home a right-handed jam.
Northwestern progressively found more success getting to the rim, and a late run sent them into the locker room down 36-22 in a half that seemed much more lopsided.
The second half brought yet another lethargic start, leading Carmody to use his final timeout just one minute in. Whatever was said in the huddle worked, as Northwestern came out with more energy and went on a quick 5-0 run.
“We knew we had to give it our all,” Marcotullio said. “We just said to each other, ‘Are we going to leave it all out here or are we going to give up?’ And it seemed like we came together for a few minutes there.” With the 'Cats threatening to cut the deficit to single digits, the referees began to put their mark on the game. Both teams attacked the rack at every opportunity, and the next five points came from the line.
Trading baskets wasn’t going to work, and sensing that their careers were almost over, the seniors took over. Hearn grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back up for two, and on the next possession, Marcotullio stole it away and went in for a layup that made the score 47-39.
The aggression continued after an Iowa timeout. Hearn attacked the glass and Marcotullio spotted up for a three, but the Hawkeyes continued to have answers. They hit four timely threes in five minutes, but the most painful punch came when Marble ripped the ball away from sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski and forced him to intentionally foul him to prevent a layup. Marble split the pair, and Iowa retained possession.
As the clock ran down and the Wildcats tried to make one last push, rebounding let them down as it has many times this season. Iowa ran down the shot clock and missed several long jumpers, only to chase down the rebound and force Northwestern to foul.
The Hawkeyes calmly iced the game at the free throw line, and when the outcome was inevitable, Carmody took out his seniors to a deserving ovation from the crowd. They stepped off the court one final time, and Northwestern’s season came to a close with Iowa dribbling out the clock.
It was a season of disappointment; that much is certain. Some was brought on by the play of the team, but much of it can be attributed to injuries to Drew Crawford and senior forward Jared Swopshire. Whether or not Carmody did well enough with this team to keep his job is up to athletic director Jim Phillips.
“Jim Phillips and I will discuss this the next couple days and we’ll go from there,” Carmody said. “We evaluate each year, so it’s no different than any other year as far as how we go about our business.”
It was clear that he was more focused on his players, especially the seniors who have done so much to elevate the program.
“I have these two guys next to me who are seniors and I just told them in the locker room they will never have any regrets, either one of them,” Carmody said. “They’re both guys who have class and they carry themselves with dignity.”
Such is the tradition at Northwestern, and whether Carmody returns or not, no one should expect that to change.