By Ryan Murphy
Josh Oglesby’s three-pointer with five seconds left looked dead center. Iowa was going to win on Senior Day, and all but end Northwestern’s hopes for the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history.
But the freshman’s shot rimmed out, went out of bounds off Aaron White, and Alex Marcotullio knocked home two free throws to give the Wildcats a 70-66 victory Saturday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It was a heartwrenching ending for Iowa senior guard Matt Gatens. The Iowa City native scored 17 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but his biggest contribution may have been bottling up John Shurna, who scored a season-low nine points.
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said Gatens’ effort on Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer was nearly superhuman.
“It was epic is what it was,” McCaffery said. “The effort level it took to do what he did against a guy who is 6-9 was just one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.”
Shurna’s scoring output was picked up by Drew Crawford. Crawford recorded 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 steals, with six of Crawford’s rebounds coming on the offensive glass.
Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody said Crawford’s play, especially in the first half, spurred the Wildcats.
“I thought he was terrific,” Carmody said. “A lot of his rebounds were in traffic, and his offensive rebounds in the first half were contagious.”
The Hawkeyes roared out to a 28-13 lead in the first half, but then succumbed to Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone defense. The Wildcat defense swarmed Iowa, and Northwestern went on a 29-7 run to take a 42-35 lead.
Northwestern led for the entire second half, but not without high drama. The Wildcats’ last field goal was a JerShon Cobb jumper that put Northwestern up 65-57 with 4:49 to go. The Hawkeyes clawed back to within two points with 1:57 to play after Gatens hit one of his only two three-pointers.
Neither team would score until two free throws from Dave Sobolewski would put the Wildcats up four with sixteen seconds left, but a driving layup by Bryce Cartwright cut it back to 2. The Hawkeyes would then foul Shurna, who would miss the front end of a one-and-one, leading to Oglesby’s open look.
The game was sealed by two free throws by Marcotullio with two seconds left. It was the second straight game that the junior guard made a big contribution at the end of the game. The Warren, Michigan native also hit an NBA range three-pointer to tie Ohio State on Tuesday night before falling to the Buckeyes.
Crawford said it has been a boost for the Wildcats to have Marcotullio playing well in crunch time.
“Alex is tough, and he’s got a lot of heart,” Crawford said. “He’s constantly playing well, but especially in the last two games.”
One of Northwestern’s biggest positives on Saturday afternoon came through offensive rebounds. Northwestern was able to convert 11 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds. Carmody said the Wildcats’ domination of the Hawkeyes on the offensive glass was one of the keys to victory.
“Once a century we get offensive rebounds, I think our last game we got one,” Carmody said. “Crawford was very good in the first half, and I think he got three or four offensive rebounds.”
The loss locks Iowa in as the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins on Thursday in Indianapolis, while Northwestern attained the tournament’s No. 7 seed. The Hawkeyes will take on Illinois for the second time this season, and the game will begin at 10:30 a.m. central.