So much for Northwestern running through the Big Ten undefeated. NU’s best start to conference play in over 50 years came to an unfortunate end as the No. 19 Wildcats (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) ran into an offensive juggernaut Tuesday night in Iowa City, falling 87-72 to No. 10 Iowa (8-2, 2-1).
Northwestern fared much better against the vaunted Hawkeyes than most would have predicted entering the season, as it kept things close well into the second half. But the Wildcats knew they would have to outscore Iowa if they wanted to pull off the upset, and they simply could not.
Despite a stellar game from Pete Nance, who finished with a career-high 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, the Hawkeyes had a counter for every punch that NU threw. Three other Wildcats scored in double figures, but Boo Buie struggled after an early bucket, hitting just one of his eight attempts from the field.
Jordan Bohannon led Fran McCaffery’s squad with 24 points on 13-of-20 shooting, 19 of them coming in the second half. CJ Fredrick added 19 points while Pete Nance primarily held Luka Garza to just 18 points.
Nance wasted no time getting going, scoring the team’s first eight points, while the Hawkeyes started just 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-3 from three. Northwestern grabbed an early six-point lead and led 8-6 at the first media timeout.
But alas, Iowa began to find its shooting stroke. The Hawkeyes went on an extended 20-10 run, led by Fredrick, who hit three straight triples, prompting head coach Chris Collins to burn a timeout. Iowa capitalized on four straight NU turnovers and a lack of defensive rebounding, which resulted in a nearly four-minute scoring drought for the ‘Cats.
Nance ended the Wildcats’ scoreless stretch with a driving dunk, as time and time again the junior forward’s foot speed was too much for the slower Garza to handle. While many expected bushy-browed center to be the headliner of the night, Garza was held to an uncharacteristically low six points in the first.
Instead, Nance and Frederick who emerged as the stars of the first half, with each registering 17 points in the opening 20 minutes. However, the rest of the Wildcats struggled to keep pace with the dynamic Hawkeyes, turning the ball over nine times and entering the break down 45-36.
The ‘Cats started the second half strong, cutting the Iowa lead to just two points with three made triples, but a 7-0 Iowa scoring run put the Hawkeyes back up 54-45 at the under-16 timeout.
Behind hot shooting from Miller Kopp and Chase Audige, as well as some timely buckets from Ryan Young, Northwestern continued to hang with the Hawkeyes.
NU cut the Iowa lead to 63-60, but an Iowa bucket, a turnover led to a questionable technical foul called on Pete Nance after he blocked a shot. Bohannon made two free throws and Garza added a layup to build the Iowa lead back up to nine.
A Northwestern basketball player just swatted the hell out of a shot but got T’d up for yelling GIMME THAT SHIT. Never thought I’d see the day. Brimming with pride— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) December 30, 2020
The Hawkeyes’ lead grew to double digits late in the second half, powered by a stretch during which they made 7-of-8 field goal attempts. The scoring spurt was spearheaded by known Wildcat-killer Jordan Bohannon, who went 5-of-6 from downtown in the half.
The only thing in doubt in the closing minutes of the contest was whether Garza’s 18-game streak of scoring at least 20 points in Big Ten play would be extended. The 6-foot-11 center fell just short, finishing with 18 points on the evening.
Northwestern will look to bounce back on January 3, when they head to Ann Arbor to take on the undefeated Michigan Wolverines.