IOWA CITY, Iowa — Northwestern picked up its first win in a decade inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday after a commanding 77-68 victory over Iowa.
The win snaps a four-game losing streak for the Wildcats, as they pick up just their second win ever inside Carver. Northwestern improves to 6-7 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten, while Iowa drops to 8-4 and 1-1.
“That’s the best they’ve played against us,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said, “and they’ve lost four in a row. I think it was a tough afternoon at the line and finishing lay-ups, and our defense wasn’t near what it’s been the rest of the season.
“You have to give Northwestern a lot of credit.”
Much like last season when Iowa had to rebound from early deficits, the Hawkeyes got off to a sluggish start in the first half against the Wildcats. Only hitting 11-of-23 (47.8 percent) from the field and just under half of their free throws offensively, Iowa allowed 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) from the field for Northwestern.
Croatian forward Vedran Vukusic led the Wildcat charge with 12 opening half points, while a determined sophomore guard T.J. Parker added another nine, in often dramatic fashion.
Vukusic had 22 points for the game, playing for 38 minutes despite accumulating four fouls. Mohamed Hachad added 18 and Parker finished at 11.
“He’s very good, and he had a very good game,” said Alford of Vukusic. “I think he took it right at our forwards. Vukusic does a very good job, he can shoot the three and he can drive the ball. He’s big too. He hurt us two years ago as a freshman.”
Iowa had 10 turnovers in the first half compared to just five by Northwestern, converting the opportunities into nine points. The Wildcats also had eight fast-break points compared to two by the Hawks.
For the game, the Wildcats gained 28 points off of 21 Iowa turnovers. They also managed 14 fast-break points and 18 points from off the bench.
“Turning the ball over 21 times is going to get you beat in a lot of games,” said Alford. “It’s very frustrating if we weren’t ready to play and we didn’t understand the logistics of this game. It’s pretty frustrating from a senior leadership standpoint.”
Interestingly enough, sophomore point guard Jeff Horner got his shooting groove back in the half, leading Iowa with 3-of-3 for nine points with two 3-pointers. But the spell could only be sustained in the first, and Horner tapered off in the second with only four for 13 total points.
The Hawkeyes did manage to gain the lead briefly after the midpoint of the first half with an equalizing Pierre Pierce lay-up and a Glen Worley follow-up to go up by two. But turnovers and a strong defensive performance out of the underdog Northwestern squad saw the first half close at 38-29.
Pierce had a game-high 23 points but also had five turnovers, and Greg Brunner who was the only other Hawkeye in double digits (11) joined Pierce at the high number.
The second half opened with Northwestern jumping out to its game-high 15-point lead after two lay-ups by Hachad and a jumper by Parker. The improved offensive performance by those two players had Wildcat coach Bill Carmody pleased.
“It was good for us, because we’ve been playing very poorly,” he said. “We told the guys just go out there and be aggressive. They turned themselves around.”
Even though Iowa wore away Northwestern’s lead to five in the first four-minute game of the second after two 3-pointers by Pierce and Horner and perfect free throw shooting by senior Jared Reiner, Vukusic quickly took the wind out of Iowa’s sails with an answering 3-pointer followed by three unanswered lay-ups.
From then on, Northwestern’s lead didn’t fall below double digits until the final minute of the game, and it was clear there would be no repeat of last year’s comeback victories for the Hawks.
Northwestern managed to be the only team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against Iowa this season, closing at 29-of-55 (52.7 percent). The Wildcats also kept the Hawkeyes at bay offensively, leaving them 47.8 percent from the field and 16-of-26 from the line.
While both coach and players cited the Wildcat’s unorthodox 1-3-1 defensive zone, putting the taller players on the wings and limiting perimeter jump shots in the loss, Coach Alford went further blaming turnovers and a lack of senior leadership.
“They went to a 1-3-1,” said Alford. “They only did it for a couple of possessions against Michigan, and they did it a lot more against us. I thought our guards picked the ball up a lot and stood with it on the perimeter, plus they were turning the ball over at a pretty fast clip.
“We’ve got four guys who’ve been through this for four years and it’s a little frustrating,” added Alford, who said that he expected changes in the line-up for Tuesday. “Staff will have to break down tape and we’ll have to see what the best match-up is for us.”Iowa’s seniors combined for 20 points, going 5-of-15 from the field and 7-of-11 from the line.
“I’m really not sure. I don’t think we came out with as much fire as we did against Purdue,” senior center Sean Sonderleiter said. “I don’t think we were mentally ready. They run that Princeton offense and it’s pretty hard to guard, you have to be on your toes mentally and physically, and I just don’t think we came out with a concentration we needed to.”
The Hawkeyes will have to regain their fire before travelling to Minnesota on Tuesday in their third Big Ten match-up of the season.
“I think Minnesota plays zone as well, and Minnesota’s a lot bigger than (Northwestern),” said Alford. “We can’t stand like we stood (today) against the zone.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com