No. 11 Iowa 87, No. 22 Northwestern 72: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Northwestern has been the upstart in the Big Ten Conference early this season, trying to force its way up to the top of the standings among teams with much bigger reputations.

Iowa put a stop to that, at least for one night, when it took control of Tuesday's game midway through the first half and led for the final 32 minutes en route to an 87-72 victory. The No. 22 Wildcats (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) kept making runs at the Hawkeyes, but there was always an answer, and usually from a different player.

Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon scored 24 points, making a quintet of second-half 3-pointers that kept the lead from slipping away. CJ Fredrick scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, helping the Hawkeyes take a 45-36 lead into the locker room.

Center Luka Garza finished with a modest 18 points by his lofty standard, but he connected on a pair of key baskets after the Wildcats had cut the deficit to 65-60.

It was a determined team effort by the No. 11 Hawkeyes (8-2, 2-1), who were stung by a 102-95 overtime loss at Minnesota on Friday, but reasserted themselves in their return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa guard CJ Fredrick (5) makes a basket as Northwestern guard Ryan Greer (2) defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Here's what we learned.

Iowa keeps Buie under wraps

In their two losses this year, the Hawkeyes have let opposing point guards chew them up. Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs scored 27 points; Minnesota's Marcus Carr had 30.

Northwestern has a very talented sophomore running its attack in Boo Buie. But Iowa never let him get on track Tuesday, frustrating him into a 1-for-8 shooting performance and a mere two points. Buie did have eight assists and six rebounds, but he was not nearly the force he had been in the Wildcats' 3-0 start to the Big Ten season.

Iowa heads to Northwestern for a rematch next month, so keep an eye on that matchup again. But it was definitely advantage Hawkeyes this time.

Freshmen make some noise

For Iowa to be successful, contributions need to come from all nine players in Fran McCaffery’s rotation. That extends to freshmen forwards Patrick McCaffery and Keegan Murray, who certainly did their part in the first half.

The Hawkeye offense was a bit sluggish early, and Iowa had a 19-18 lead when the rookies got into the game and injected some vigor. Murray didn’t give up on a rebound of a Jack Nunge missed shot, battling three Wildcats to get a hand on the basketball, deflecting it right to McCaffery for a layup. Later, McCaffery found a cutting Murray with a nice feed for a dunk. Murray stepped out to nail a 3-pointer. McCaffery tapped in a missed shot at the rim.

Murray played 11 first-half minutes and made all three of his shots for seven points. McCaffery played 8 minutes but scored four points and led the team with four rebounds in the opening 20 minutes. Some of the extended playing time came because Connor McCaffery sat for 12 minutes with two fouls. But it was certainly earned as well. The freshmen were a vital part of Iowa’s nine-point lead at halftime.

Lax defense still an issue

Northwestern shot 50% from the field in the first half, limited only by its inability to avoid dumb mistakes. The Wildcats committed nine first-half turnovers, including four traveling calls, a double-dribble, a ball that was simply dribbled out of bounds and a shot-clock violation on which three different players seemed to have no idea that time was running out. It was odd to watch.

But it was difficult to credit Iowa’s defense for most of those miscues. Because there were other stretches where Northwestern players simply dribbled through the Hawkeye defense for uncontested layups or dunks. And there were a couple of late closeouts on 3-point shots by Nunge, both of which Northwestern converted.

On one dunk by Wildcats forward Pete Nance, Fran McCaffery jumped from his seat at yelled at his team to stop the ball. He also was angry about the uncontested 3-pointers, one game after Minnesota made 17 of them to down the Hawkeyes. These are recurring issues for Iowa, and there needs to be an answer soon if the Hawkeyes are to truly be an elite team.

Iowa next plays at No. 13 Rutgers at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.