Men’s Basketball: Northwestern preps for must-win game versus Iowa

Dan Ryan

Almost immediately after senior forward John Shurna’s last-second shot against Ohio State clanked against the rim and fell harmlessly to the floor, both he and junior forward Drew Crawford sat side by side on the Northwestern bench, heads in their hands.

This late in the hunt for March Madness, losses like Wednesday’s are especially tough to swallow.

“We’re just trying to stay positive,” Crawford said. “We both knew it was a tough game. We were both feeling the effects of that because it was such a difficult one. We were just telling each other that we have to come ready to play on Saturday.”

After their furious late-game rally was not enough to topple the No. 10 Buckeyes, the Wildcats needed to quickly regroup and turn their focus to a dangerous Iowa team that awaits them Saturday.

Crawford, however, said that was easier said than done.

“I didn’t sleep much,” Crawford said. “I bet a lot of the guys on my team didn’t sleep much just because it was a great opportunity for us.”

With their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging by a thread, the Cats travel to Iowa City, Iowa, to take on a Hawkeyes team that has pulled off some impressive upsets at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. En route to pushing its record at home to 13-5, Iowa beat Indiana and Wisconsin in back-to-back games and has won three of its last four games.

Junior guard Reggie Hearn didn’t mince words when talking about the importance of Saturday’s game to the program.

“We have to have a win,” Hearn said. “We can’t lose this game. We’re going to come out ready, and you’re going to see a lot of fight in us on Saturday.”

Guard Matt Gatens has been leading the Hawkeyes’ late-season run up the Big Ten standings. In his some of his final games for Iowa, the senior put up 30 against Indiana and 33 points against Wisconsin and is now averaging 15.7 points per game on the year. Gatens’ high level of play has put the Hawkeyes in a fight with NU for the seventh seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

“It’s a team that’s playing very well,” coach Bill Carmody said. “And there’s some significance in the game, in standings. It’s really important for them and maybe even more important for us.”

Despite their impressive run to 8-9 in conference, the Hawkeyes provide a good matchup for the Cats due to the two teams’ shared weakness on the boards. Iowa ranks 11th in the conference in rebounding defense and eighth in rebounding margin, meaning a blowout on the boards like NU suffered against Ohio State on Wednesday is unlikely to occur again in Iowa City.

Unfortunately for the Cats, they will have to get a win by crashing the Hawkeyes’ Senior Night, meaning a tough road environment to play in could be made all the more difficult. Although the pressure of a must-win game on the road is significant, Hearn said the team’s experience will keep them loose on the court.

“This is a game that most of us have been playing since we were very small,” Hearn said. “There’s not a lot of situations that many of us haven’t seen when it comes to the game. So a lot of it is just going out and doing what we know how to do.”

And despite the night’s festivities, Hearn said NU won’t make any exceptions to send Iowa’s senior class off with a win.

“We don’t care at all (if it’s Senior Night),” Hearn said. “Ohio State didn’t care about ours, and we’re not going to care about anybody else’s.”

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