Men’s Basketball: Northwestern suffers setback against Iowa

Danny Daly

Entering Wednesday night’s game at Iowa, the most impressive feature of Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament résumé was the lack of losses to inferior competition. That’s no longer the case after the Wildcats’ 78-65 upset loss to the Hawkeyes.

“We just weren’t mentally prepared for the game,” junior point guard Michael Thompson said. “We weren’t focused at the beginning, and we just couldn’t get over that hump.”

In NU’s 78-61 victory over Indiana last weekend, all five starters scored in double figures. The offensive output wasn’t nearly as balanced against Iowa-only Thompson and sophomore forward John Shurna topped seven points.

Meanwhile four players tallied at least 13 points for the Hawkeyes, who shot 50 percent as a team.

“We didn’t guard at all, and that really affected our offense,” coach Bill Carmody said. “They were more physical than we were, they out-competed us, and that’s disappointing … They deserved to win.”

The Cats (16-8, 5-7 Big Ten) have started slowly against weaker teams before, but this time they dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of. The Hawkeyes were up 10-2 after three-and-a-half minutes and stayed comfortably in control for the rest of the half.

Fueled by its aggressive defense and reliable outside shooting, Iowa (9-16, 3-9) took a 35-20 edge into intermission.

Senior guard Devan Bawinkel was the half’s unlikely star, coming off the bench to connect on 4-of-5 attempts from beyond the arc. He finished with 15 points, nearly five times more than his season average.

“We were in the 1-3-1 (zone), and Iowa did a good job of finding him in the corner,” Shurna said. “We just didn’t execute on defense.”

It wasn’t the first time a proficient perimeter player created problems for the Cats. Wisconsin guard Trevon Hughes and Minnesota guard Blake Hoffarber both got hot at the right time to help their respective teams beat NU earlier this year.

By holding the Hawkeyes scoreless for almost four minutes at the start of the second half, the Cats put themselves in position to get within striking distance. But they scored just five points during that stretch, and Iowa never let NU cut the deficit to fewer than nine points.

“Our defense was clicking at that point, but we just couldn’t find an offensive rhythm,” Thompson said. “Once we did start scoring, we couldn’t chip away at the lead because we were both trading baskets.”

Poor free throw shooting stalled what little momentum the Cats had. They missed the front end of a pair of one-and-ones when the outcome was still in doubt, costing them multiple offensive possessions. NU’s 7-of-13 performance at the foul line was its second-worst this season.

A layup by center Jarryd Cole gave Iowa a 66-47 lead with 4:48 left, which marked its largest advantage of the night. While the Cats managed to crawl back within 11 points, it was too little, too late.

The shocking defeat erodes NU’s margin for error the rest of the way, making Sunday’s rematch against Minnesota especially important. More post production will be crucial for the Cats to avenge their 65-61 loss in Minneapolis three weeks ago-sophomore centers Luka Mirkovic and Kyle Rowley combined for four points and three turnovers in 25 minutes against the Hawkeyes.

“You can’t just shake (this loss) off,” Carmody said. “Our last game against Minnesota, we didn’t get anything out of our centers, and tonight was the exact same thing. It’s real hard to stay on the outside and make shots unless you’re getting something in the middle.”[email protected]