Men’s Basketball: Northwestern keeps season alive with upset win over Iowa


Brian Lee/ Daily Senior Staffer

Senior forward Drew Crawford drives past Iowa’s Melsahn Basabe. Crawford scored 15 points in the Wildcats’ 67-62 win over the Hawkeyes in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Ava Wallace, Sports Editor

INDIANAPOLIS  — When junior guard Dave Sobolewski sank his second 3-pointer of the night, some Northwestern fans in the crowd at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis started visibly laughing.

It wasn’t until the last few minutes of Thursday’s game that a Wildcat upset became a palpable reality for spectators at the Big Ten Tournament. In what coach Chris Collins called his team’s best game of the year, No. 11 NU pulled off a first-round win against sixth-seeded Iowa, 67-62.

The Cats’ offense looked the most polished – and least hesitant – it has all season. NU shot 52.3 percent on the night, grabbed 29 rebounds, and benefited from the reemergence of two notable players.

Sobolewski, whose shooting percentage and playing time have plummeted this season, contributed 10 points, six of them via 3-pointers, and tied for a team-leading six rebounds.

Sophomore guard Tre Demps, who earned a reputation for his clutch shooting early in the conference season but has quieted down lately, led the team with 20 points, including four 3s.

Both Collins and senior forward Drew Crawford, who followed-up his 27-point game against Purdue with 15 against Iowa, said the fact that the Cats’ were playing without pressure helped their performance.

“We talked about the fact that there is really no pressure on us, we can just play,” Collins said. “When you do that, it’s funny sometimes how you shoot better… a lot of the shots we haven’t made all year, we made tonight.”

The lack of pressure allowed Collins to stick to his team’s guns, as it were. Collins repeatedly explained his decision to switch from an zone defense to a man defense as staying faithful to his team’s identity.

While the zone allowed players like Iowa’s Aaron White to slip through to the basket early on, the switch kept the Hawkeyes’ offense to a bare minimum in the second half – Iowa didn’t make any free throws and shot 25.7 percent on its field goals, down from 40.7 percent in the first half.

Crawford said NU’s underdog status only motivated his teammates.

“It’s just a fighting spirit that we have,” the senior said. “The fact that no one really gives us a chance, that’s big-time motivation. We like it that way.”

The depleted Cats made the best of a seven-man rotation. Sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson made two of his three shots from beyond the arc, and NU cut down on low-percentage mid-range jump shots.

Sobolewski’s experience was evident early in the first half Thursday, and Collins acknowledged the junior’s leadership after the game.

“He had a very good presence to him tonight, he got us organized, he was strong with the ball, and of course, he made shots,” Collins said. “Everybody’s documented, he hasn’t shot the ball this well this year.”

NU also benefited from Iowa’s continued downward slide after losing five of six outings heading in to the tournament. The Cats had more turnovers than the Hawkeyes, 13-9, but foul trouble early in the second half couldn’t derail NU’s momentum.

The Hawkeyes also didn’t take advantage of their roster’s depth. Roy Devyn Marble and Jarrod Uthoff led the Hawkeyes with 25 and 17 points, respectively, but the rest of Iowa’s lineup was quiet.

NU faces third-seeded Michigan State on Friday in the last game of the tournament’s second round. Demps said the Cats will have to play a more physical game against the Spartans, who are particularly physical on the glass. The Spartans beat the Cats by 14 and 15 points in two matchups this season.

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