Northwestern fought its way back from a 13-point, second-half deficit and had three chances to tie the game or take the lead in the final two minutes.
When the Wildcats failed to take these opportunities, the Hawkeyes came back with daggers of their own.
When Jake Kelly hit a wide-open 3-pointer with 1:27 to play to push the lead to four, it was not the first time Iowa made a key shot to end an NU run.
The Cats cut into a 17-point lead in the first half, but the Hawkeyes’ offense seemed to know how to respond every time they got close.
“They were making shots,” junior guard Craig Moore said. “We would have minor miscues that they just capitalized on.”
Iowa finished shooting better than 50 percent for the fourth time this season, hitting 55 percent. The team also tied a season high with 12 3-pointers, led by Kelly’s 18 points. Kelly and guards Justin Johnson and Tony Freeman combined to make all of Iowa’s 3-pointers.
The Cats were able to stay in the game by switching up defenses and forcing 16 turnovers.
NU started the game in its typical 1-3-1 zone defense, but Iowa quickly forced the team to change. The Hawkeyes scored the first 10 points of the game and enjoyed a more than 10-point advantage for much of the first half.
Iowa quickly rotated the ball around the perimeter, forcing NU players in the zone to adjust quickly. The team attacked the gaps, got the ball inside and found wide open 3-point shooters, taking a 17-point lead midway through the first half and a 13-point lead in the second.
“We know who their shooters are,” coach Bill Carmody said. “We came off and helped at times when we shouldn’t have. Kelly penetrated a couple times and threw the ball out. He drew us in and we shouldn’t have gotten out and stayed on him and we did not do that.”
The Cats switched to a matchup zone, which helped them cut the lead back to six by halftime and make another run after the Hawkeyes took a 13-point lead in the second half.
NU tried aggressively pressing Iowa and scored 18 points off of turnovers. The different look from the Cats enabled them to rally despite Iowa’s shooting.
“We’re basically just trying to give the teams different looks,” freshman guard Michael Thompson said. “We don’t want them to get comfortable with a set defense.”
Despite NU’s ability to force turnovers, opponents’ hot shooting has been a recurring team for the Cats this season.
Last season, NU allowed opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the floor and 34.5 percent from the 3-point line. The team was fourth in the conference in points allowed per game, giving up 58.7 per game.
This year, the Cats are giving up 48.6 percent shooting from the floor and 40.1 percent 3-point shooting. They also have given up 68.5 points per game, on pace to be the most per game since Bill Carmody became head coach in 2000.