EVANSTON, Ill. — With just over 17 minutes to go in the second half, Northwestern’s Tre Demps pulled up and drained an open three to cut No. 10 Iowa’s lead to just four points at 34-30.
It looked as if Northwestern (10-11, 3-5) was going to have another opportunity to beat a quality opponent in a grind-it-out, low-scoring affair.
Following Northwestern’s 93-67 loss in Iowa City on Jan. 9, Northwestern head coach Chris Collins decided to whole-heartedly change his team’s philosophy.
Collins, who admittedly would rather play an up-and-down style on offense, focused his energy on Northwestern’s defense. Since that game, the Wildcats have climbed to 18th in the nation according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating.
Seizing the opportunity to organize his team for a potential run to stay with the Hawkeyes, Northwestern head coach Chris Collins called a timeout.
“We have to be a team that kind of hangs around the whole game and then wins it at the end,” Collins said after the game.
Iowa (16-4, 5-2) responded with a 7-0 run to push the lead back up to 11.
From there, Northwestern struggled to get back into the game. A key 24-7 Hawkeye run over eight minutes in the second half that began with about 13 minutes left blew the game wide open.
During that run, Northwestern shot just 3-11 from the field and Iowa cruised to a 76-50 victory.
In wins over Illinois, Indiana and Purdue, it was swarming defense that made up for Northwestern’s poor offensive showings. The Wildcats shot a combined 36.5 percent from the field in the team’s three Big Ten victories.
Although Northwestern did shoot right around that mark at 36.4 percent for the game, Iowa is not Illinois, Indiana or Purdue.
“We weren’t going to hold Iowa in the 40s,” Collins said. “I knew that. For us, I was trying to keep the game in the low 60s and hopefully we were going to make some shots and get to that point and keep it, in the last eight minutes, giving ourselves a chance to be there.”
Demps and Drew Crawford were the only Wildcats in double figures. Crawford, Northwestern’s leading scorer, finished with 20 points on 8-17 shooting and Demps had 11 points on 5-10 from the field.
The rest of the team, though, scored just 19 points, shooting 25 percent.
“One of the advantages that we have is our depth,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Chris doesn’t have as much depth as we do. So, [if] we could keep running fresh bodies at Crawford, Demps and [JerShon] Cobb in particular and really make it difficult for [Alex] Olah with our size, they would have a hard time scoring over a 40-minute period. I think our defense… was obviously very effective today.”
While Demps and Crawford did lead Northwestern in scoring, neither player was particularly efficient. Cobb scored just 6 points on 3-9 shooting and Olah struggled all afternoon as he missed his first seven shots from the field and finished with 8 points.
“We had to score,” Collins said. “I thought we got good looks. I thought Alex had some really good looks at the basket. He was 0-6 in the first half. I thought he had good shots. He just didn’t make them. I thought we had clean looks from three where we got in there and we penetrated and the guys kicked and we didn’t make them. We missed a few free throws. Our margin for error is slim. When we play a team this good, we’re going to have to shoot well.”
Northwestern has struggled all season on the offensive end and when compared to Iowa’s offense, the sixth most efficient offense in the country according to KenPom, the poor shooting became even more glaring.
A balanced Iowa scoring attack led by Devyn Marble’s 14 points (all in the second half) saw six players score at least eight points.
“It’s okay for them if Aaron White and Marble don’t score in a half,” Collins said about Iowa. “They got other guys. If Drew and JerShon don’t score in a half, we may not score double figures. It’s a different ball game right now but we’ve got to keep finding ways to get better.”
Both Collins and Crawford acknowledged the amount of open looks the team had, especially in the second half. The fact that they continue to miss them, Crawford said, can’t deter the team from looking to shoot.
Coming into the game, Northwestern was shooting just 33.5 percent in unguarded catch-and-shoot opportunities, according to Synergy.
“There were quite a few in the second half, we had some pretty wide-open threes,” Crawford said. “They just weren’t falling for us. When that happens, in the huddle, you just keep encouraging guys, ‘Keep shooting because they’re going to fall. They’re great shots.’”