For the opening 20 minutes of Saturday’s game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Northwestern Wildcats, the Hawkeyes seemed to be falling into the same trap that had befallen Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue: let the pesky, defensive-minded Wildcats hang around for too long against a more talented opponent, and let the Wildcats steal a win.
The No. 10 Hawkeyes exploded in the second half to avoid that trap, running away in the final period for a 76-50 victory over Northwestern at a nearly-full Welsh-Ryan Arena.
A lackluster first half saw Iowa turn the ball over ten times, and allowed Northwestern to slow the pace of the game, dictating the tempo and frustrating the Hawkeyes. Iowa would maintain a slim 30-24 lead at the end of the frame.
“What Northwestern forces you to do is that, if you don’t match their intensity level, you are going to get beat,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said.
“We played really hard, and I thought in the first half, we were playing the kind of game we needed to play,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. “You are not going to hold Iowa in the 40’s, (because) they are really long, and really athletic. We just are not at that level right now.”
The Hawkeye burst began three minutes in to the second half, as Iowa was holding a four-point lead, 34-30, over the Wildcats. Over the final 17 minutes, the Hawkeyes outscored Northwestern 42-20, pushing the tempo of the game to one much more suitable to the Hawkeyes.
McCaffery credited the Hawkeye surge to one factor — defense.
“It was simply this: we got stops,” McCaffery said. “In the first half, they scored at a more consistent pace, which allowed them to get their defense back.”
Leading the Hawkeye spark was Devyn Marble, who scored 14 points in the game’s final 20 minutes after a scoreless first session.
McCaffery said Marble was able to keep his confidence and composure to lead the Hawkeyes in the second half.
“Dev did not have a particularly good first half,” he said, “but he is incredibly confident in himself, and has the ability to take it and come back, and the way he played in the second half is indicative of who he is.”
Collins added that he thought Marble was among the top players in the conference.
“I like the fact that he didn’t have it going early, but he didn’t force the action,” Collins said. “He let the game come to him, and he kept going and found a way.”
Gabe Olaseni added another 14 points for the Hawkeyes, while Northwestern’s Drew Crawford had a game-high 20 points.
The Hawkeyes turn their attention to No. 3 Michigan State, who comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday night. The Hawkeyes have not beaten the Spartans in their last six tries, dating back to a 72-52 Hawkeye win on February 2, 2011.
McCaffery said while the Hawkeyes recognize the importance of the battle with the Spartans, preparation for Tuesday’s showdown will be no different.
“We’re all aware of what Michigan State has done this year, and what they have done under coach Izzo,” the Iowa coach said. “It will be a phenomenal atmosphere, and we will be ready.”