JIM JOHNSON, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Northwestern coach Chris Collins isn’t a fan of clichés, but when it’s true, that’s a different story.
“We played maybe our best game of the year,” he said after Thursday night’s 67-62 victory over No. 6 seed Iowa. “Certainly for us, it’s a special win. We kind of had to reinvent ourselves here.”
Tre Demps had 20 points, including four 3-pointers and Drew Crawford added 15 points and six assists to lead the Wildcats (14-18), who became the first No. 11 seed to win in the Big Ten tournament since 1999.
The Wildcats responded after losing five straight to the Hawkeyes, including two 26-point losses in a regular-season sweep by Iowa.
Northwestern beat Purdue in the regular season finale and, with the tournament win, won two straight for the first time since Feb. 1 — a different look for the Wildcats, who lost 7 of 8 games heading into the contest. They face Michigan State, ranked No. 22 in the nation and the No. 3 seed in the tournament, in the quarterfinal Friday.
“It’s just a fighting spirit we have,” Crawford said. “The fact that nobody really gives us a chance, that’s big-time motivation, too. And we like it that way. That really drives us because we know we’re capable.”
The Wildcats went on a 7-2 run when Crawford made a lay-up to give the Wildcats a 55-51 lead with 3:52 remaining before Alex Olah drew a charge and scored a pair of free throws.
Dave Sobolewski hit a 3-pointer with 2:20 remaining to give the Wildcats a 60-53 advantage.
Roy Devyn Marble had 25 points and Jarrod Uthoff finished with 17 points and nine rebounds off the bench for the Hawkeyes (20-12), who have lost 6-of-7 games.
The Wildcats opened the second half on an 8-2 run. Demps hit a 3-pointer before Marble scored a basket to make it 34-33. Kale Abrahamson made a 3 and Crawford a lay-up to give the Wildcats a 39-33 lead with 17:36 remaining.
Melsahn Basabe scored a free throw and Demps a jumper to make it 41-34 with 16:00 left in the game.
Later, Crawford scored a 3 to give the Wildcats a 45-39 lead.
Then the Hawkeyes scored six straight.
Gabriel Olaseni made a lay-up, Marble scored two free throws and Olaseni scored two more free throws to tie the game at 45 with 9:13 left.
It’s been a touch stretch for the Hawkeyes and things aren’t getting better.
On Thursday night, Iowa players and fans honored the son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, Patrick, who was diagnosed with a tumor on his thyroid last week. They wore warm-ups, created by the team, with “P-Mac” printed on the front and “#teampat” on the back with Patrick McCaffery’s number 22 basketball jersey number.
It continues a downward spiral. The Hawkeyes started the Big Ten schedule 5-2, but finished the regular season losing 5 of 6 games. McCaffery served a one-game suspension for an outburst during a game in January and the Hawkeyes had their game with the Indiana Hoosiers postponed.
The rescheduled game forced the Hawkeyes to play four games in nine days and went 1-3 in that stretch and dropped the final regular season games.
“There’s no magic formula,” McCaffery said. “You just have to keep working. You work your way out of things like this. You don’t talk your way out of it, you don’t fake your way out of it. You don’t start pointing fingers at each other. When you’re losing, it’s never one thing.”
The Hawkeyes shot 0-of-9 from 3-point range and 25 percent overall in the second half.
Northwestern scored seven straight late in the first half.
Demps scored on a lay-up and Abrahamson made a lay-up and then a 3-pointer to tie the game at 28 with 43 seconds left in the half.
Marble made a 3 before Demps answer with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game at 31 at halftime to give the Wildcats some momentum.
“You go in feeling good,” Collins said. “It’s a tied game and it was our ball. So we came out and we were able to score so we got the lead right away so I thought that was a huge momentum boost.”
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