Men’s Basketball: Despite new defense, Northwestern takes second beating from well-balanced Iowa squad

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

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It was a different style but an identical result for Northwestern, which fell to Iowa by 26 for the second time this month.

The Wildcats (10-11, 3-5 Big Ten) hung around with the No. 10 Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-2) on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena but eventually succumbed to Iowa’s superior talent, falling 76-50.

The blowout loss was, for NU, disappointingly similar to its previous matchup, which the Hawkeyes won 93-67 in Iowa City, Iowa, on Jan. 9. After that game, NU committed to slowing the game down and focusing on defense. With that approach, the Cats won three of their previous four games heading into Saturday.

But the change in style ultimately didn’t affect the final margin, even though the game was closer for most of the afternoon than it was the last time. But, as coach Chris Collins pointed out, the game was effectively over by halftime.

“I thought we played better,” Collins said. “I look more about how the game was played. … It was about them playing well, not about us playing that poorly.”

NU trailed by only 6 at halftime and by 4 early in the second half, but Iowa pulled away with 7-0 and 11-0 runs. The Hawkeyes outscored the Cats 32-10 over the game’s final 17 minutes.

Iowa won the battle inside, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds to NU’s five and scoring 32 points in the paint to the Cats’ 22. Sophomore center Alex Olah converted just two of his nine field goal attempts and pulled down only four rebounds.

“They might be the best offensive rebounding team in our league,” Collins said, listing off the Hawkeyes’ collection of lengthy big men. “Sometimes it’s tough to block those guys out. Our guys are trying. They were battling. But especially in the second half, as we got a little tired, their offensive rebounds were even bigger. The fatigue was starting to get to us, and their length and size was wearing us down.”

Iowa’s scoring was impressively balanced, with six players tallying 8 or more points and no one finishing with more than 14. After a scoreless first half, Hawkeyes leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble notched 14 after halftime. Forward Gabriel Olaseni added 14 of his own — as well as 10 rebounds — including the game’s flashiest highlight, a ferocious one-handed put-back dunk.

That same balance was noticeably lacking for the Cats. Senior forward Drew Crawford was by far NU’s most productive offensive player, scoring 20 points on 8-17 shooting, and sophomore guard Tre Demps was the team’s only other player in double figures, finishing with 11 points. In total, only four players scored more than 2 points, compared to eight for Iowa.

“Guys are going to be hot one night. Who’s scoring on our team doesn’t really matter,” Crawford said. “It’s got to be a team effort. Everyone has to do their job. It has got to come from all over.”

The Cats couldn’t hit a field goal in the game’s first five minutes, with their first of two five-minute basket-less stretches in the first half. Crawford kept the team close throughout the period, scoring 13 of NU’s 24 points, but the tide turned after halftime.

For most of the afternoon, the Cats’ defense limited an explosive Hawkeyes offense, but NU’s lack of offense eventually proved the team’s downfall.

“We have to score. We weren’t going to hold them to the 40s,” Collins said. “Our margin for error is slim. When we play a team this good, we’re going to have to shoot well. We’re going to have to not turn it over. We’re going to have to hope they miss some shots they normally hit.”

The difference, as Collins saw it, wasn’t scheme or execution — just the simple talent differential between the two teams.

“Both teams played really hard,” the coach said. “They’re just better than us.”

Twitter: @AlexPutt02