Northwestern had been on a hot streak.
The Wildcats came into Saturday’s game against No. 10 Iowa having won three of four and defense was catalyst in all three victories.
The question was, how would the Wildcats be able to stop a talented Hawkeye roster with so much depth and so much ability to make it an up-and-down game?
The answer: They couldn’t.
Iowa opened up a six-point halftime lead with two big runs in the final 20 minutes and cruised to its 16th win of the season, cooling off Northwestern for the fifth straight time, 76-50, in front of 8,117 fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"We didn't play our game at Michigan, we didn't fight the way we've been fighting," said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. "I thought we were better than the way we played at Michigan and I wanted to prove it against a team that was 3-1 in its last four games.”
Gabe Olaseni had his best game in an Iowa uniform, finishing with a career-high 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his third career double-double. Roy Devyn Marble also had a big second half and finished with 14 points and five rebounds, while Mike Gesell matched a season-high with 11 points and also delivered six assists.
The last time Northwestern gave up as many as 76 points was when the Wildcats surrendered 93 earlier this year against these same Hawkeyes.
"In the first half, we were being too methodical and weren't playing our game," said Olaseni. "The coaching staff settled us down at half and told us to get back to what we do -- defensive stops and run-outs. That's what we try to do every game and I am glad we started doing it a lot more in the second half."
The Hawkeyes shot 52 percent from the floor, hit 15-of-20 from the line and out-rebounded Northwestern 44-20. Iowa never trailed and led by as many as 26 in the second half. There were three ties in the first half. The Hawkeyes outscored Northwestern 46-26 in the final 20 minutes.
Iowa (16-4, 5-2) took control of the game for good with an 11-0 run midway through the second half. The Hawkeyes led 45-38 with 12:42 to play but extended that advantage to 56-38 three and a half minutes later thanks to seven points from Marble.
Josh Oglesby scored five points during an 11-2 run that pushed the Iowa lead to 22 with 5:06 to go. Oglesby and Zach McCabe each scored eight points off the bench as Iowa’s reserves – which includes Olaseni – outscored the Wildcats’ bench 32-13.
"We tried to bring more energy," said Olaseni of the reserves. "We're not trying to be tentative. We tried to refocus after the Michigan game. I am glad we gave the effort today."
Melsahn Basabe added eight points and four rebounds, while Adam Woodbury scored six points and grabbed six rebounds in the win.
Drew Crawford led the Widcats and all scorers with 20 points. Tre Demps added 11 off the bench and JerShonn Cobb scored seven points, grabbed six boards and dished out five assists. The Wildcats shot 36 percent from the floor and was just 4-of-20 from 3-point range.
"I wanted to lock in defensively and battle and if we did that we could overcome the physicality of their defense,” said McCaffery. “In the first half, we were spectacular but were only up six, but that's because we turned it over 10 times.In the second half, we took care of the ball, guarded them again, got our running game going, and I am thrilled with our effort."
Iowa is now 5-2 in league play and is in sole possession of third place in the Big Ten Conference. The Hawkeyes will trail the loser of Michigan-Michigan State by one game when the night ends.
Iowa will take on the No. 3 Spartans on Tuesday with the chance to move even closer to the top of the standings. That game will be in front of a sell-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.