Dejected. Defeated. Outhustled.
That was the Iowa men’s basketball team in a nutshell Thursday night. How could a team that they beat by 26 points in both previous meetings give them a game, and ultimately win? Following the 67-62 loss inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, one that was not as close as the score indicates, Iowa has now lost six of their past seven games and are likely at about a ten seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
The story of the game was the efficiency for both teams. Northwestern played seven guys, and their five starters combined for 59 of the Wildcats’ 67 points, led by 20 points from sophomore Tre Demps and 15 from senior Drew Crawford.
Iowa, on the hand, got a combined 32 points from their starters. 25 of those came from Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White had 5, and Melsahn Basabe and Mike Gesell each had 1 point. This game would have had an even bigger margin of victory had it not been for Marble and Jarrod Uthoff, who scored 17 in the game.
The first half was relatively even and very sloppy, as indicated by the 31-31 halftime score. White and Zach McCabe, who had seven points, each scored their points in a stretch of about five minutes each, and were nowhere to be seen for the rest of the game. Both teams had about a three minute span in which they got hot and knocked down a high amount of shots, but neither team could really get into a groove for more than those little bursts. Northwestern went to a 2-3 zone for about a four or five minute span, which was right in the middle of Iowa’s hot shooting burst. After the ensuing timeout, coach Chris Collins scrapped the zone for the rest of the game and went with their usual man-to-man defense. He talked about that and how his team pulled off the second 11-seed versus 6-seed upset in Big Ten Tournament history.
“I was just really pleased with the way my team approached the last couple days heading into this game. A lot of times for a team like ours with the record we have, you can have a tendency — we’re playing a team that would beat us by close to 30 points both times we played them,” Collins said in his opening statement to the media. “You can have a tendency to maybe just come here to Indy, enjoy the day, play a little ball and be done with things. But that’s not what my group wanted to do, and that’s not who they’ve been, and I thought they played outstanding. We played maybe our best game of the year.”
In the first half, the biggest lead for Northwestern was five points at 14-9 with about 11 minutes to go in the half, while Iowa’s biggest lead was seven at 28-21 with just under 4 minutes to go in the half. When one team made a run, the other team responded with a run to counter.
The second half was very much dominated by Northwestern. Iowa never led at any point of the half, and Northwestern made Iowa pay from three-point range. Northwestern is not normally known for their perimeter shooting — the Wildcats are dead last in the Big Ten in three-point shooting at just a tick under thirty percent. They shot 11-23 from distance, while Iowa shot just 6-24 from long range. Iowa had their game plan of forcing Northwestern to take outside shots and got burned, while Northwestern came in with the idea of wanting to force Iowa into quick shots early in the shot clock while controlling the tempo. There were many occasions in which Northwestern wilted the shot clock to less than 5 seconds and found an open man. What seemed like an every possession occurrence of exhausting the shot clock, every shot seemed to kill what little momentum Iowa had going in the second half. Guys like Kale Abrahamson, a former West Des Moines Valley prep who finished with eight points, and Dave Sobolewski, who scored in double digits for the first time since November 25th against Gardener-Webb with ten points, kept making shot after shot when the Wildcats needed a bucket.
On the other side, Iowa had six players see action and score 1 or fewer points. Adam Woodbury, Josh Oglesby, Peter Jok, and Anthony Clemmons all put up goose eggs in the score sheet. Combined with the 1 point scores of Basabe and Gesell, those six players shot a combined 0-21 from the field and 0-12 from three-point range. No matter what level you are playing at, having those statistics aren’t going to win many games. None of these guys could get into a rhythm offensively.
Clemmons and Jok played one and five minutes respective, so you really can’t fault them. Woodbury just did not have his head in the game. That may have been why he only played 15 minutes in the game. Mike Gesell, however, just could not buy a bucket at all. He finished 0-10 from the field and 0-5 from long distance. Basabe continued his downtick in playing time with only nine minutes last night, which could be blamed on a lot of things. His counterpart, Gabe Olaseni, was all over the floor grabbing boards and hustling on every play while finishing with 6 points and 8 rebounds in 24 minutes. The other thing that could be wrong with Melsahn is that he may not still be 100% recovered from the injuries that hampered him toward the end of the season. Whatever the cause, the Hawkeyes are going to need a healthy Basabe if they want to make any noise in the Big Dance.
Coach Fran McCaffery had nothing but praise for the Wildcats, and hinted that his team was looking beyond Northwestern and thinking about the rest of the Big Ten Tournament and quite possibly the NCAA Tournament as well.
“I think we have to give more credit to this Northwestern team and how they played. I don’t want to say that we didn’t take them seriously enough. We’re thinking down the road,” McCaffery said. “I think at this point you have to say Northwestern played well. They played better than us today,” McCaffery went on to say. “In this league you’re playing a team that has beaten people, and they made 11 threes. You know, you’ve got to tip your hat to a team that shares the ball in a way to make 11 threes. They weren’t just dribbling down and shooting it. They were moving the ball and running stuff, whether it’s against man or zone, and finding each other.”
Iowa is going to have to figure out things in a hurry to avoid a first round exit. This team is a complete mess right now, and it may stay that way if they have nights like last night where not everyone shows up and contributes.