Men’s Basketball: Cervantes: Northwestern’s offensive stagnation, Iowa explosion coalesce into 16-point loss


Daily file photo by Esther Lim

Freshman guard Nick Martinelli. Martinelli had a career-high nine points in Northwestern’s 86-70 loss against Iowa on Tuesday.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

Midway through the second half in Northwestern’s clash against Iowa, sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer collected his own miss and scored on a reverse layup. The bucket reclaimed the Wildcats’ advantage by one point. 

The 56-55 lead wouldn’t hold for long, as Hawkeye guard Payton Sandfort wasted little time — 23 seconds to be exact — to put Iowa back ahead. Barnhizer’s advantage seconds before would be the last timestamp where NU led in Tuesday’s affair. 

A cataclysmic close on both ends of the floor from the Cats, coupled with a Hawkeye offensive surge, engineered an eventual 16-point loss for coach Chris Collins’ bunch.

After playing to an even 39-39 draw in the first half, it was reasonable to expect a similar back-and-forth in the second frame. NU, which had weathered a poor one-of-five shooting start from senior guard Boo Buie, was boosted by an unexpected bench tandem: freshman forward Nick Martinelli and graduate student forward Tydus Verhoeven.

Martinelli, who has gradually seen an uptick in minutes due to sophomore guard Julian Roper II’s ankle injury, poured in a career-high nine points on a perfect three-of-three shooting from the field in the first half. Meanwhile, Verhoeven, the University of Texas at El Paso transfer whose playing time has been consistently mired by foul trouble, provided four points, four rebounds, three blocks and one steal in 13 minutes of action.

The duo saw just seven and five minutes, respectively, of floor time in the second frame, neither registering a single shot. It was a sign of NU’s late offensive struggles, one which saw the Cats score only 14 points and hit a mere five shots over the final 10 minutes.

As time ticked away, NU’s second-half deficit continued to stretch. Collins, as he has done this season, called Buie and redshirt senior guard Chase Audige’s numbers, in hopes the dynamic guard pairing could lift the Cats out of the hole. 

They couldn’t. 

Iowa’s full-court press continually took precious seconds off NU’s offensive possessions, often forcing the Cats into rushed sets which precipitated poor shot selection. Though Buie had a much better second half — he posted 14 points on five-of-eight shooting — Audige’s three-of-ten second-half outlook hindered the visitors. Outside of Buie, the seven other NU players who saw second-half action combined for 17 points on seven-of-21 shooting and failed to hit a three-pointer.

The Cats’ offensive woes were only compounded by the surge from Iowa forward Filip Rebraca and guard Sandfort. 

The Hawkeye pair poured in a combined 40 points for the night, including 24 of Iowa’s final 29 points. In the paint, Rebraca tortured NU’s frontcourt, whether on dunks, layups or second-chance putbacks. On the perimeter, Sandfort rained down several triples, including the one that put the game to bed.

At the 3:36 mark, Sandfort, curling to the right wing from the corner, caught a handoff from Rebraca and hoisted up a three-point attempt over Buie and junior center Matthew Nicholson. Sandfort’s release and subsequent fall was awkward, though the end result was anything but. 

His triple hit nothing but nylon and Nicholson was whistled for a foul. As he laid on the floor stretched out like a star, Collins went ballistic with the officials. The four-point play turned into six quickly after NU’s head man was charged with a technical foul. Sandfort’s individual six-point swing quelled any notion of a Cats comeback, as Iowa cruised to an 86-70 victory.

Amid a hellish six-game, 13-day stretch forced on by the team’s COVID-19 pause, NU returns to Evanston to host Michigan in fewer than 48 hours.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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