It’s not a mirage, folks. In an eight-day stretch, the Northwestern Wildcats have defeated the Purdue Boilermakers, the Indiana Hoosiers, and now the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Northwestern played what may have been its most complete game of the season in an 80-60 victory over Iowa Sunday night. The Hawkeyes did not hold a lead for a second of game action in a night that inspires confidence for what this team can be in the conference tournament and beyond. With the win, Northwestern captured a fifth consecutive victory, its 20th win of the season and avenged an earlier loss to the Hawkeyes.
Unsurprisingly, leading the charge for the Wildcats was Boo Buie, who finished the night with 23 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Behind Buie, it was a team effort. Ty Berry scored 16 and Brooks Barnhizer added 12 points and seven boards. The two big men, Tydus Verhoeven and Matt Nicholson, combined for 17 points and six rebounds.
For the Hawkeyes, Kris Murray led the team with 14 points and five rebounds. Tony Perkins and Filip Rebraca finished in double figures as well. However, the usually potent Iowa offense, which averages a conference-best 81 points a game, was held to just 60 points, shooting only 13% from three.
The Wildcats jumped out to a quick lead, scoring on both of their first two possessions, including a Berry corner three. Consecutive triples from Chase Audige and Buie jolted the beach-themed crowd and propelled the ‘Cats to a 11-3 lead, forcing Iowa to call timeout.
Following the timeout, Murray made an impressive lineup before Berry sank another three on the other end. In the opening minutes, the Wildcats made four of their first six shots from deep, forcing the Hawkeyes to respect the three-point line. This opened up looks for Northwestern under the basket, culminating in a Verhoeven slam dunk as Northwestern led 16-9 at the first media timeout.
Eventually Northwestern’s shooting did cool off, as the ‘Cats went on a five minute scoring drought missing seven consecutive shots before Buie finally hit a midrange floater. Despite the offensive struggles, the defense held firm as the ‘Cats contested Hawkeye shots and forced turnovers to hold Iowa to three-minute scoring drought of their own.
Facing a six-point deficit, the Hawkeyes needed a spark. Barnhizer had other plans, stealing an Iowa pass and gliding down the court for an electric slam. On the other end of the floor, Iowa’s shooters could not match Northwestern’s proficiency from deep, shooting a mere 1-of-13 from beyond the arc. From there, Barnhizer drew a charge, Buie buried a layup and Berry had a brief steal and bucket (how’s that for alliteration?). Shortly after, Barnhizer sunk another three to make the score 28-15 Northwestern with under three minutes before half.
Out of the media timeout, Payton Sandfort made two from the stripe for Iowa before Buie sunk yet another deep ball and later added two pairs of free throws to give him 14 points before the halftime buzzer. After a pitiful half of 1-of-16 three-point shooting, Ahron Ulis sunk a buzzer-beating three to cut the margin to 11. The Wildcats headed to the locker room up 37-26.
In the opening seconds of second-half action, Audige made a nifty layup after a largely quiet first half. Rebraca responded with a jumper for the Hawkeyes before Audige made another layup, this one an even higher degree of difficulty. The teams continued to trade buckets, as Northwestern’s lead ping-ponged back and forth from 13 to 11. A gorgeous layup by Perkins cut the deficit to nine, but Northwestern grabbed the momentum right back with a Matt Nicholson layup.
After a low-scoring first half, both offenses found an early rhythm in the second. A Murray and-one cut the ‘Cats lead to seven, but once again, Barnhizer stepped up for the home team, responding with a three-point play of his own. At the media timeout, the score was 52-40 in favor of the Wildcats.
Just like the first half, Northwestern’s threes continued to fall, as this time it was Nick Martinelli getting in on the action. A Nicholson layup on the next possession inflated the Wildcat lead to 15, the largest of the game at that point.
Despite the encouraging lead, Northwestern got into foul trouble early in the second half. With 8:31 remaining the Hawkeyes were already in the bonus.
Down over a dozen, Iowa began to employ an aggressive trap to stymie Northwestern. the ‘Cats dissected the change quickly and found Verhoeven for a massive slam, giving him his eighth point, a season high for the big man.
With Welsh-Ryan Arena buzzing, Fran McCaffery was assessed a technical foul on the Hawkeye sideline and was ejected from the game, further jolting the home crowd. McCaffery believed there was a missed 10-second call. For the second consecutive game, Northwestern was the beneficiary of a double technical foul call, as Buie sunk all four of his free trips to the line to take a commanding 19-point chokehold on the game with just over seven minutes remaining.
Unlike the Indiana game where the ‘Cats let their opponent climb back into the game, the Wildcats only got stronger in the second half. Berry’s third three of the night brought the margin to 21.
Patrick McCaffrey, just like his dad had minutes earlier, picked up a technical foul, giving the Wildcats extra free throw attempts. It became clear in the waning minutes of game action that Northwestern was about to secure a fifth consecutive win.
The final four minutes became garbage time as Welsh-Ryan transformed into a party with “rank Northwestern” chants echoing through a building that has experienced a lot of winning and excitement over the past week.
As Boo Buie told reporters after the Indiana win, “This isn’t luck. It can’t be luck at this point.” If there was any doubt left that Northwestern is for real, Sunday night silenced those doubters. The Wildcats, tournament bound, will take on in-state rival Illinois Thursday night with a chance to keep the winning streak alive.