IOWA CITY, Iowa — The game began with hope. Last Saturday, Northwestern dominated Purdue at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats were a single road win from breathing life into their season.
The game ended with NU players shaking their heads. This year, luck has been hard to come by. After more injuries and more missed opportunities, they let another opponent pull away.
Behind impressive depth, Iowa rallied to win 71-57 on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Roy Devyn Marble recovered from recent struggles by scoring 21 points, and quiet contributions keyed a late outburst.
“I really don’t know what to say,” senior Reggie Hearn said. “We were in the game … All of a sudden, we were playing small. We couldn’t get anything going offensively. It got away from us.”
When Alex Olah and Jared Swopshire both left the game with second-half injuries, the game was completely altered.
First, Olah left clutching his head with what may be a concussion. Then, Swopshire – in his final year of eligibility – went to the ground with what coach Bill Carmody suspects is a right knee injury. He appeared to be in serious pain as his teammates helped him off the floor following the game.
Not surprisingly, NU began to struggle. The rebounding advantage turned into a liability.
“They’re our two leading rebounders,” Carmody said. “(Iowa) started hitting the backboards. They were getting offensive rebounds, tip dunks, and stuff like that. The game wasn’t lost because of that. But it certainly opened up a lot sooner than it would have.”
The outcome was not simply a result of injuries. Dave Sobolewski had a rare off night, shooting just for 2-for-12 with three turnovers. Hearn, who knocked down a pair of field goals in the opening minutes, could not keep his momentum. The senior was visibly frustrated. It was difficult to blame him.
“Hearn came out pretty strong, but beyond that, we didn’t get much,” coach Bill Carmody said. “We missed a lot of layups. We just have to do something with our offense.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery leaned on his second unit. In the early stages, he removed his starters from the game — which sent an early message. McCaffery was comfortable using his bench against an undermanned NU team.
“We have as much depth as anyone and (Carmody) doesn’t have that kind of depth right now,” he said.
When NU tried to make a run, the bench responded. Kale Abrahamson – back in his home state – cut the Hawkeyes lead to two with 12:03 remaining. Iowa made mistakes throughout the night, including some embarrassing missed layups, but they responded under pressure.
Marble found reserve guard Josh Oglesby for the three-pointer, extending the lead to five. Then, after a tip-in from Gabriel Olaseni and a layup by Marble, Oglesby sealed the outcome. The sophomore knocked down a corner three to give Iowa a 52-40 lead, and it completed his excellent game.
“Josh had a tremendous game,” McCaffery said. “He hit some shots. He might have been our most solid defender. It was why I stayed with him.”
But it was the resurgence of their star player that carried Iowa. Marble had been awful in the last five games – shooting 18 percent during that stretch. He established himself immediately with a transition dunk to open scoring.
“That jacked him up,” Carmody said.
With Tre Demps guarding him, Marble went to work on the interior. He made plays for his teammates and tallied five assists. Throughout the slump, McCaffery told him to keep playing his game and to maintain his aggression. The results showed on Saturday.
“He was spectacular today,” McCaffery added. “There’s no question about it.”
Northwestern, meanwhile, dropped its third consecutive road game. The NCAA Tournament hopes are out the window. The Cats are left wondering who will even be able to suit up against No. 10 Ohio State on Thursday.
Hearn said there are no excuses. The team has not suffered an emotional letdown, but players have no choice but to move forward and look for signature wins.
“Just keep plugging,” he said. “That’s all you can do at this point in this season. A lot of people have injuries and guys just have to step up.”
First, Drew Crawford went down. Now, it’s the two bigs. In Iowa, an opportunity turned into a nightmare.
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