Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
The last time Northwestern and Iowa faced off, the playing field and rosters looked a lot different. The two programs were squaring off at Indianapolis’ Gainbridge Fieldhouse for the second round of the Big Ten tournament.
Yet, unlike the Hawkeyes, who secured a first round bye and eventually won the tourney, the Wildcats welcomed the challenge after their one possession win over Nebraska the night before, 71-69. This was their first second round appearance since 2016-17, symbolizing the different ends of the spectrum each group entered from and how far away NU was from reaching Iowa’s status. This was emphasized by the final record, 112-76 in Iowa’s favor.
Matching up again 10 months later, though, the Cats (15-6, 6-4 Big Ten) seemed to have closed the gap just in time for their rematch, entering the Iowa City contest with the second-best record in Big Ten play . And in a foot race from the get-go, Iowa (14-8, 6-5 Big Ten) and NU were neck-and-neck until the Cats sputtered, dropping the contest 86-70.
Like most of NU’s battles this season, it was a tiresome, back-and-forth tug of war most of the contest. Neither team held a double-digit lead until less than five minutes remained in the entire game, mainly because of the evenly-matched play and minor runs by each group.
This was on display especially in the first half after Iowa’s first takeover when first-year guard Josh Dix’s coast-to-coast acrobatic jumper and sophomore guard Payton Sandfort’s top-of-the-key three capped off their 7-0 run. After the timeout by NU, though, the Cats caught back up and took the lead from the Hawkeyes with an 8-0 run, highlighted by a mean one-handed alley-oop slam by redshirt senior Chase Audige from senior Boo Buie.
And with graduate forward Tydus Verhoeven’s one of two buckets and an Audige three, the Cats were sitting pretty up nine with less than four minutes until the break. Yet, in back-and-forth fashion, Iowa chased down NU, knotting the contest back up at 39 apiece with Payton Sandfort’s buzzer-beating three. The two groups were shoulder to shoulder.
Coming out of the break, Buie’s offensive boost gave the Cats a much-needed edge, scoring the first five points for either team. However, Buie’s play turned from blessing to curse quickly, as he picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second 20-minute block, placing NU’s leading scorer on the bench three minutes later. Although this didn’t affect the score much, as Buie stepped back onto the court while the Hawkeyes held a one-point lead, the rest of the Cats were maxed out.
From nearly the 11-minute mark, when Buie reentered, to the first double-digit lead of the contest, Buie scored all but two of NU’s points. Even though these baskets were effective, Buie needed more help from his fellow Cats, while the Hawkeyes mastered their teamwork, sharing the wealth five-fold, with five players scoring in that time span. Ironically, by the end of the game, they finished with five players in double figures — two with a 20-point bomb.
By this point in the contest, the ball was in the Hawkeyes’ court, as the Cats struggled on offense and surprisingly on defense as well. While missing five straight from the field reflecting its five for 15 shooting woes in the last 10 minutes, Iowa’s bird’s-eye view was too much for NU. Iowa didn’t take its foot off the gas pedal, not missing back-to-back shots until the end of the game — resulting in its 16-point victory.
After his loss to Michigan, most, including coach Chris Collins, viewed NU’s out of steam second half led to its demise — a possible early indication to the program’s COVID-19 outbreak. And with a similar downfall versus Iowa, playing its fourth game in eight days due to its rotated schedule may be a result of this fatigue.
With two days to rest before seeking revenge against Michigan Thursday, hopefully, the Cats can rest their legs before another tough battle.
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