Hawkeyes hold on to defeat Northwestern, 67-62

EVANSTON, Ill. — Two things are becoming common when the University of Iowa and Northwestern get together in men’s basketball. The first: no lead is safe. The second: expect the outcome to be in doubt until the final moments.

UI senior Seth Gorney was 4 for 4 from the free throw line in the final 17 seconds and the Hawkeyes led wire-to-wire during a 67-62 victory Tuesday in Welsh-Ryan Arena. Iowa concludes the regular season 13-18 overall, 6-12 in the Big Ten Conference.

“I didn’t doubt him (at the free throw line),” UI head coach Todd Lickliter said. “He has a good routine and he’s very consistent. You feel pretty comfortable with him on the line.”

In the process, the Hawkeyes cured the Evanston Hex, which haunted them during last-second losses during their final three trips here. Northwestern dips to 8-20, 1-16.

Gorney, who was silent most of the game, turned in a memorable final 41 seconds. First, he pulled down a defensive rebound after a Michael Thompson miss. Moments later, with Iowa clinging to a 63-62 lead, Justin Johnson mis-fired on a three-point field goal attempt, but Gorney was there to grab the offensive rebound before he was fouled by Kevin Coble. Gorney was perfect on two free throw attempts.

With 6.2 seconds left, Gorney secured a defensive rebound following a three-point miss by Jason Okrzesik. He was fouled by Craig Moore, sank two more free throws and put the game out of reach, 67-62. But just for good measure, it was Gorney who had the final defensive rebound of the game as time expired.

“There is some satisfaction knowing that these guys didn’t accept (being picked 11th in a preseason Big Ten poll),” Lickliter said. “We reached six Big Ten wins and there are a lot of teams that can’t say that.”

It was an outstanding shooting performance for the Hawkeyes, who made 22 of 40 field goals (55 percent), 12 of 23 three-pointers (52.2) and 11 of 14 free throws (78.6). Iowa had a 17-point lead in the first half and led by as many as 13 in the second half. Even though the Wildcats rallied in both halves, the Hawkeyes never relinquished the lead.

“When we’re patient, move the ball side-to-side and help each other, we usually shoot it fairly well,” Lickliter said. “I thought they moved it well, I just don’t understand some of the turnovers.”

Jake Kelly scored a game-high 18 points for Iowa. He made 7 of 10 field goals, including 4 of 5 from downtown, and handed out four assists. Johnson added 17 points with seven rebounds. He was 5 of 13 from three-point range. Cyrus Tate and Tony Freeman both had 14 points. Freeman dished off seven assists, which is his second-highest total of the season (nine against Indiana).

Northwestern did shine in two statistical areas. The Wildcats outscored Iowa 18-0 in bench points and 23-9 on points off turnovers. But in the end it was Iowa which prevailed and improved to 106-51 all-time against Northwestern.

Iowa scored the first 10 points of the game and jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first half (28-11), but the Wildcats closed the half on a 16-5 run to reduce the Hawkeye advantage to 33-27 at the break. Four UI players handled the scoring duties during the first 20 minutes. Tate and Johnson both scored nine points, Freeman added eight points and five assists and Kelly chipped in with seven points. Johnson sank 3 of 6 three-point field goal attempts.

It was a hot shooting performance by the Hawkeyes, who swished 13 of 24 field goals (54.2 percent). Iowa’s defense also made things difficult for Northwestern, which was 9 of 23 from the field (39.1) and four of those baskets were from three-point range. Even though the Wildcats held a 15-11 rebounding edge, the Hawkeyes finished the first half with 10 assists and just four turnovers. Iowa scored 14 points in the paint.

The Hawkeyes open the Big Ten Conference Tournament on Thursday, March 13, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.