Coming off a breathtaking victory of their own, the Iowa Hawkeyes (13-3, 2-3 Big Ten) walked into Welsh-Ryan to face Northwestern (10-6, 1-4 Big Ten) with both teams badly in need of a victory to keep up with the rest of the conference’s power players. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, poor three-point shooting and foul trouble doomed Chris Collins’ squad to another Big Ten loss, this time in a 73-63 grinder, in a season that is quickly beginning to unravel after a promising start.
Neither team looked that sharp out of the gate. The teams combined to miss their first seven shots until Isaiah Moss opened the game with a lay-up. Northwestern began the game stone-cold, as Iowa, playing without leading scorer Tyler Cook (17 PPG), established an early 9-2 lead by taking advantage of backdoor cuts and solid interior offensive rebounding. Early turnovers and missed two-footers stifled Northwestern’s offensive creativity, and neither Vic Law (13 PTS, 10 REB) nor AJ Turner (10 PTS, 6 AST), the ‘Cats two ball-handlers, were able to penetrate the Iowa defense.
Northwestern began the game 0-7 on threes, and finished 3-14 from outside the arc in the half. Luckily, Iowa didn’t fare any better, going 2-11 after Northwestern switched from an ineffective 2-3 zone to man defense. Freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 PTS, 7 REB), who finished with a game-leading 19 points, facilitated the offense for the Hawkeyes especially in the second half.
The game began to turn, though, as Anthony Gaines (13 PTS, 6 REB) challenged the Hawkeyes near the rim to pace Northwestern offensively. Gaines led the ‘Cats with 9 points after going 2-2 with five free throws. During a half where nothing seemed to be going in for Turner and Ryan Taylor (11 PTS), Gaines’ offensive play kept the ‘Cats in the game.
Every time Iowa began to pull away, Northwestern had a response; eight rotation players scored during the first half.
Hawkeye guard Isaiah Moss (11 PTS) hit a few tough off-balance jumpers to keep Iowa’s lead as the half winded down, but Turner broke out of his slump to tie the game at 32, the first time Northwestern drew even al game. After Moss hit another tough basket, Taylor sunk a lay-in after driving down the baseline to tie the match at 34.
Taylor opened the second half with his first three of the game to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the game on their way to a 7-1 run. Pardon initially held opposing center Luka Garza (16 PTS), but quickly got into foul trouble against the larger big man. The Hawkeyes responded with a run of their own to retake the lead, 47-46. Law and Pardon both got their fourth fouls before the 9 minute mark of the second half, and Iowa was able to cut into the interior and used a larger size advantage to outmuscle the ‘Cats. The Hawkeyes went on a 14-5 run and took a commanding seven point lead that they never relinquished. The ‘Cats were forced to shuffle lineups as foul trouble plagued Law, Pardon, Taylor and Benson. The ‘Cats bench, which stepped up in the first half, managed 20 points but couldn’t overcome the widening point gap.
The lack of a strong interior presence hindered Northwestern’s attack, which stalled down the stretch. Pardon fouled out with about four minutes left, and a depleted Wildcat attack couldn’t survive down the stretch. Benson’s floor production floundered, managing four fouls in 11 minutes, as Law ineffectively took the offensive mantle for the rest of the match. Iowa closed out the game strong defensively to take the 73-63 win.
When asked about how a fourth close loss will affect team morale, Turner immediately pointed to the remaining games on the schedule as a sign that the Wildcats are down but not out.
"We've still got 15 games left," Turner said. We are going to watch the film, move on, and see what we can learn moving forward."
Northwestern can’t take too many positives from their performance, although Anthony Gaines’ first half aggressiveness bodes well if he can keep it up longer. Northwestern’s lack of a point guard curtailed the team’s offense, while foul troubles decimated the ‘Cats defensively. The Big Ten gauntlet isn’t going to get any easier for Northwestern, and time is quickly ticking for seniors Pardon and Law to get over the hump one last time. Coach Collins will have his work cut out for him to salvage a positive result for this season.