CHICAGO— Northwestern could have fallen apart. The Wildcats failed to score in the first seven minutes against Iowa. They gave up the first 11 points.
Heck, Bill Carmody burned every single one of his timeouts by the 19:10 mark of the second half. At that point, NU trailed 39-22.
The last one provided the much-needed spark, according to senior Alex Marcotullio: “We just said to each other, are we going to leave it all out here or are we going to give up?”
NU did the former in convincing fashion. But in the end, as has often been the case, they fell short. NU lost 73-59 at the United Center on Thursday – its ninth straight defeat.
And as the careers of Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn drew to a close, the floodgates of speculation opened. On the press conference agenda was Bill Carmody’s job status.
“It’s just the way it is,” the embattled head coach said.
Carmody and Jim Phillips plan to meet in the “next couple days” as usual, and the athletic director will then make his decision. Tonight was about the two seniors, each of whom finished their careers in fine fashion.
A noticeably different team after that final timeout, NU gradually climbed back into contention. Hearn, who scored 19 points and added 10 rebounds, began to find his stroke. Then Marcotullio made a crucial play.
He stole the ball and scored on the other end. Suddenly, with 9:46 remaining, the lead was cut to 47-39. During his postgame press conference, Carmody praised the hard-nosed play of his departing seniors.
“I have these two guys next to me who are seniors,” he said. “And I just told them in the locker room they will never have any regrets, either one of them, or any of the other guys too.
“They will never say, well, I wish I had done this or practiced harder … they’re both guys who have class and they carry themselves with dignity.”
If only they had discovered that sense of desperation in the early going. Iowa, still clinging to tournament hopes, jumped out to the early lead. Melsahn Basabe dominated on the interior, hauling in seven rebounds by the first media timeout.
Of all people, Nikola Cerina opened scoring for NU with a layup — his only points of the game. Still, the Cats struggled to find any rhythm. Roy Devyn Marble drained two straight field goals to extend the lead to 15-2.
“At the beginning, we weren’t executing our offense very well,” Hearn said. “We obviously weren’t playing defense well initially and just got in a big hole.”
“It felt like we were trying to claw back for most of the game,” Carmody added.
NU shot just 32 percent in the opening frame, and entered the locker room facing a 14-point deficit. That’s difficult to overcome facing Iowa, a team that prides itself on depth.
Because when NU made the inspired late run, Iowa kept responding. When the Cats were within seven, Marble and Eric May knocked down consecutive triples. Later, after another Olah dunk, Marble connected again from behind the arc. The junior lived up to his All-Big Ten billing.
“A couple missteps here and there, and then they increased the lead,” Marcotullio said. “That was kind of deflating. But I’m proud of the way we fought.”
And they did, until the bitter end. There will be the memorable image of Hearn and Marcotullio, arms on each other’s shoulders, walking together to the locker room one last time.
They hoped to earn the victory. This season, it just wasn’t meant to be.