Welsh-Ryan was whipped into a frenzy, and throughout the first half, Northwestern was once again controlling the tempo of play — this time against the No. 10 team in the country.
Then the Cats, who had spent the past two weeks defying expectation, stumbled back to reality.
Northwestern was outscored by 20 in the second half, and the Wildcats (10-11, 3-5 Big Ten) saw their two-game winning streak ended by the Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-2) with a 76-50 thumping Saturday. Six players scored at least eight for Iowa, while NU was led by Drew Crawford's 20 points.
"We weren't going to keep Iowa in the 40s. We knew that," Chris Collins said after the game. "We wanted to attack. We were trying to get out and go, and we couldn't keep up with their athletes and their size. Our margin for error is slim."
Despite allowing the Hawkeyes to shoot 50 percent from the floor, Northwestern was down just six at the break. The offense was still stagnant, with just three Wildcats making a shot, and Alex Olah's struggles continued with an 0-for-6 start.
But the Cats compensated with just two first-half turnovers and sharp perimeter defense. A quiet half was highlighted by a forceful one-handed put back dunk from Iowa's Gabriel Olaseni and a buzzer-beating jumper from Melsahn Basabe.
Northwestern's defense finally faltered in the second half, and Iowa's offense — the fastest in the conference — took over in transition. Northwestern turned the ball over eight times in the last 20 minutes, and after the defense had secured the perimeter earlier, open corner threes from Gesell and Roy Devyn Marble at the 11-minute mark gave Iowa a comfortable double-digit lead. NU's offense ran dry for the final 15 minutes, and the Wildcats finished a paltry 4-of-20 from beyond the arc.
"We can't just lay down and die. We did that a little bit today," Crawford said.
After missing the previous four games due to a concussion, Dave Sobolewski returned to action with a quiet 0-for-2 outing. Crawford and Tre Demps were able to find success on the outside, but Northwestern's interior offense was nowhere to be found Saturday. Iowa finished with an astounding plus-22 rebound margin.
An impressive two-week span for NU ends on a sour note. Things won't get any easier going forward, either, with the Wildcats heading on the road to play Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State in three of the next four games.
"It was obviously a tough day for us. I thought they wore us down," Collins said. "It was about them playing well, not about us playing poorly. They're a really good team, and we're just not there right now."