Iowa's last three losses in Evanston came in the final seconds after Iowa had given up double-digit leads in each contest and the script on Tuesday night was looking eerily similar to those heartbreaking defeats.
Iowa led by as many as 17 points in the first half, only to see Northwestern cut the lead to six at intermission. Iowa led by 13 points, 56-43 with less than six minutes to play in the game. Iowa was in the midst of a five-minute scoring drought at that time after going seven minutes without a field goal during one stretch of the first half.
That has been an all too familiar theme this year, and it was nearly Iowa's undoing once gain.
Northwestern cut that 13 point lead to four points in a span of 46 seconds as Iowa could not withstand the Wildcat full court press. Iowa saw its lead trimmed to just one point on Craig Moore three point shot with 2:03 to go. The teams would trade three point shots before Seth Gorney made two free throws with 14 seconds to play giving Iowa a 65-62 lead.
The Wildcats had an open look at a three, but the shot was no good and Gorney hauled in the rebound and made two free throws to clinch the game for Iowa. The final was 67-62.
NUTS & BOLTS
Iowa had just four turnovers at intermission, but 12 second half giveaways nearly cost Iowa the game.
To underscore just how menacing turnovers can be, Iowa made 55 percent of its shots in the game, but they attempted just 40 shots to Northwestern's 53. Iowa was 12-23 from three point range, better than 50 percent. They were 11-14 from the free throw line, better than 78-percent.
Yet due to turnovers, they had to scratch and claw until there were six seconds left in the game; Northwestern had 23 points off of turnovers to Iowa's nine. Basketball doesn't have to be as hard as Iowa makes it on itself at times.
As Gary Dolphin said in the post game, once Iowa figures out the turnover situation, you are going to love Iowa basketball under Todd Lickliter.
Jake Kelly did so many good things on Tuesday night, but he his ball handling in the open court was not one of them. That is an area he will need to work on this off season to become the kind of threat he is proving to be on offense. Kelly was very aggressive in this game, the way he has been over the last two weeks; attacking the basket when defenders get up in his face and then hitting three's when they back off. Kelly had 18 points to lead Iowa and he was four of five from three-point range.
Cyrus Tate continues his solid play over the second half of the Big Ten season, scoring 14 points and grabbing six boards. Iowa didn't give him the ball enough when Northwestern went man to man, something they will need to focus on next week in the Big Ten tournament.
Justin Johnson scored 17 points and pulled down seven rebounds. He hit six three-point shots in the game, and now has 92 for the season. That ties him with Luke Recker for the second most trey's made in one season. Tony Freeman added 14 points and seven assists.
Seth Gorney scored four points, all in the final 14 seconds and all from the line, and the Hawkeyes did not score one point off of their bench.
Jeff Peterson appears to be deep into Lickliter's dog house, as he didn't play in the first half and came into the game with roughly six minutes remaining. He played one minute and had two turnovers and went back to the bench for the rest of the game.
There were times when Iowa's offensive execution was pretty to watch. We've seen that a lot this year, even in games where Iowa hasn't won. However, this team continues to be plagued by long scoring droughts and too many turnovers. This team is not good enough to overcome such things, and they nearly lost twice to Northwestern this year.
Iowa should have two more Big Ten wins than the six it finishes the regular season with. They blew double digit leads against Michigan at home and Penn State on the road. An 8-10 finish would have looked a lot better than the 6-10 finish. It also would have pushed Iowa's record to 15-16 verses the 13-18 they are saddled with. You can throw in a one-point loss at Purdue where Iowa committed 21 turnovers if you'd like to.
Not that those wins would have meant the difference in making it to the NCAA tournament; I am just talking about respectability here.
Yet, six wins is more than I thought this team could muster this year, and the fact that they likely should have been fighting for a close to .500 finish in league play is a positive as much as it is an indictment of Big Ten basketball this year.
Keep in mind that most experts picked Iowa to finish 11th this year, and they will likely wind up in 7th.
As for Iowa's seed in the Big Ten tournament, it's looking more and more like the Hawks will be the seven seed.
For more on that, CLICK HERE
One final note; Iowa will not hit the 20-loss mark this year. The 18 losses are already a school record, but staying below 20 just feels a whole lot better...