The Breakdown: Hawkeyes Halt Road Skid By Locking Down Northwestern

January 9, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

For the last season and a half, Iowa looked lost on the road. Wednesday night in Evanston, the Hawkeyes found their way.

Backed by a strong defensive effort and contributions throughout the lineup, Iowa knocked off Northwestern, 73-63, at Welsh-Ryan Arena. It ended an eight-game conference road skid and was the first time in the last 11 road games that the Hawkeyes had not trailed by at least 17 points.

The performance was made more impressive by Iowa doing it without its leading scorer and rebounder, Tyler Cook, who sat out with a knee injury. The Hawkeyes played eight guys and still managed one of their best defensive efforts in the last two years.

“Somebody else just has to step up,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Maybe you play more minutes, you play through a little bit of fatigue when I normally would take you out. We were able to rotate eight guys and they were really solid.”

The 63 points scored by Northwestern were the fewest yielded by the Hawkeyes in a Big Ten contest since they beat Wisconsin, 59-57, on March 2, 2017. That stretch spanned 24 games.

Iowa (13-3 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) leaned on its zone for the second game in a row. The Wildcats (10-6, 1-4) shot 7 of 27 from behind the three-point arc. During Iowa’s 93-84 win against Nebraska on Sunday, the Huskers missed 19 of 23 treys. Overall, Northwestern shot 25 for 57 (38.6 percent) from the floor.

The Hawkeyes had been allowing opponents big scoring runs during their road woes. It looked like history was repeating itself when Northwestern used a 7-1 spurt at the start of the second half to go ahead 41-35 with 17:04 to playing in regulation.

At that point, McCaffery called timeout and challenged his team. He was animated in the huddle and threw his clipboard.

It worked.

The Hawkeyes embarked on a 21-7 run during the next six minutes to seize control of the game. Freshman Joe Wieskamp scored 10 consecutive points in the flurry, while sophomore center Luka Garza netted eight in the stretch.

Iowa maintained at least a five-point lead the rest of the way, pounding the ball inside to Garza, who created foul trouble throughout the Wildcats’ frontline. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon, quiet most of the night, hit two big shots in the lane to seal the deal late.

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“We had gotten away from what we had talked about doing, what you have to do to go on the road and win in this environment against a quality team like Northwestern,” McCaffery said of his message during the animated timeout. “We were a little haphazard. In the first half, we were locked in.”

Wieskamp finished with 19 points to lead the winners, while Garza, who’s still nursing an injured ankle, added 16 off of the bench. Wieskamp grabbed seven rebounds, while Garza pulled down five.

“He looked like himself,” McCaffery said of Garza. “He gave us some great minutes against Nebraska but you could tell he wasn’t quite 100 percent.”

Senior Nicholas Baer, who started in place of Cook, tied Northwestern’s Vic Law with a game-high 10 rebounds to go with nine points and two steals. Isaiah Moss scored 12 and tied Connor McCaffery with a team-best four assists.

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The Hawkeyes, who lead the nation in free throws made per game and are second in attempts, sank 21 of 26 tries on Wednesday. They also held a 40-32 rebounding advantage.

Iowa entered Wednesday’s action last in the league in turnover margin. It performed much better in that area, dishing out 14 assists to just seven turnovers.

The Hawkeyes may have found a tonic for its defensive woes with the zone. After allowing 52 points in the first half of a 86-70 loss at Purdue last week, it allowed on 63 total on Wednesday. And they did it without Cook.

Fran McCaffery didn’t know his star would miss the game until shoot-around on Wednesday.

“(Tuesday) we all thought he was going to go, he just didn’t feel right (Wednesday),” the coach said.

McCaffery listed Cook’s availability as day to day. It’s been an on-going, nagging injury.

“When he gets back (to Iowa City), he’ll see the doctor. We’ll see what happens,” the coach added.

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