Men’s Basketball: Northwestern ends season with Big Ten Tournament loss to Iowa

Sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski (left) consoles senior guard Reggie Hearn (11) after Hearns Northwestern career ended with a 73-59 loss to Iowa on Thursday night.

Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski (left) consoles senior guard Reggie Hearn (11) after Hearn’s Northwestern career ended with a 73-59 loss to Iowa on Thursday night.

Ava Wallace, Reporter

A bad start proved to be Northwestern’s undoing in the Wildcats’ first-round contest in the Big Ten Tournament against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday night.

Junior forward Nikola Cerina was the first to score for the No. 11 seed Cats (13-19) in their first game at the United Center since the 2007 conference championships. Cerina’s basket came seven minutes and 28 seconds into the first half, at which point the No. 6 seed Hawkeyes (21-11) already had 11 points.

“Getting in the hole like we did, it just felt like we were trying to claw back for the whole game,” NU coach Bill Carmody said.

The Cats ended their season with a 73-59 loss, its third to Iowa this year.

Iowa scored 16 points in the paint in the first half and ended the period with 23 rebounds. NU had just 13 rebounds for the half, and 10 of its 22 points were scored in the paint.

The Hawkeyes also out-muscled the Cats’ defense at the beginning of the game. Iowa made long, loping passes that NU could not get its hands on most of the time, despite the Hawkeyes having three more turnovers than the Cats did for the period.

NU senior guard Reggie Hearn led his team defensively, with 10 out of the Cats’ total 31 rebounds.

Hearn, who had 19 points for the contest and ultimately posted a double-double in his last game as an NU athlete, played one of his most aggressive halves all season. The senior collected three fouls, including one in which he wrapped his arms around an Iowa player in an attempt to keep the player from shooting.

NU freshman center Alex Olah also showed the kind of assertive fight he last exhibited Jan. 30 against Michigan. Olah barely trailed Hearn with seven rebounds and was the second highest-scoring Cats player with 12 points.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey and his players repeatedly referred to NU as a team difficult to get rid of because of its penchant for late-game streaks of quality plays.

NU took its last timeout of the game just one minute into the second half, and senior guard Alex Marcotullio said the final break was a turning point.

During the two minutes after the timeout, the Cats went on a 5-0 run.

“We knew we had to give it our all. We knew we had one last run in us — or maybe a couple,” Marcotullio said. “I’m proud of the way we fought. There were just a few things that we needed to clear up that we didn’t take care of.”

During NU’s second-half run, the team’s shooting improved from 24.4 percent in the first half to 45.8 percent for the second half. The Hawkeyes and Cats finished the game with similar shooting averages.

Still, NU ended the game with 17 fewer rebounds than the Hawkeyes. Carmody said his team’s poor rebounding was one of the top reasons a second-half comeback never ignited.

As another season ends without a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Carmody faces uncertainty about the future of his career at NU.

Carmody said he and athletic director Jim Phillips will meet soon to evaluate the season, something they do every year.

“I’ve said this over the last couple of weeks,” Marcotullio said of his coach. “I think he’s done a fantastic job with the cards that have been dealt.”

Carmody returned his players’ support with kind words about the seniors, who were both teary-eyed after the game.

“These two guys next to me who are both seniors … they’ll never have any regrets,” Carmody said. “Swopshire, too. Because they will never say, ‘I wish I had done this, or practiced harder, or dribbled with my left better, or worked at it more,’ because they both did. They’re both guys with class and they carry themselves with dignity.”

This post has been updated with more information.