EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—The coach criticized the team before the game. The starting guard lashed out at the fans afterward.
Still, Wednesday night was anything but disastrous for Northwestern.
Vedran Vukusic scored 26 points and converted the go-ahead three-point play to help the Wildcats stun No. 18 Iowa 51-48 Wednesday night. Northwestern won for just the second time in eight games.
“We played with confidence the past couple games,” Vukusic said. “We were in (them) for 35, 36 minutes, and we competed. I told the team a couple days ago, it’s not enough just to compete. … We have to come out on top.”
This time, Vukusic carried them.
The Big Ten’s leading scorer drove to his right for a layup and free throw that gave the Wildcats a 49-48 lead with 29.3 seconds left, and Northwestern (11-10, 4-6) hung on for its fourth win in five games over Iowa.
Iowa’s Adam Haluska missed a baseline drive and Northwestern’s Michael Jenkins knocked the ball off a Hawkeye and out of bounds with nine seconds left.
Vukusic—the lone Wildcat in double figures—then hit two free throws to make it 51-48 with 6.4 seconds left. He hit nine of 16 shots, including five of nine 3-pointers to move into a tie for second on Northwestern’s all-time list with Winston Blake at 200.
The go-ahead play was designed for forward Mohamed Hachad, but guard Tim Doyle said his eyes “went to No. 11 (Vukusic).”
“I was looking to give him the ball immediately,” Doyle said. “I probably won’t tell Coach that, but he’ll probably see it in the paper.”
Greg Brunner hit just two of 11 shots but led Iowa (18-6, 7-3) with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Jeff Horner scored 10 for the Hawkeyes, who had won four straight.
Both teams committed 17 turnovers.
After a poor first half, the Wildcats hit 10 of 16 shots in the second. Iowa never found its stroke, shooting 35.1 percent, but it led by nine before Northwestern made its move.
“It seems like we didn’t get any stops,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “I felt like we really defended well until the 8-minute mark. After the 8-minute mark, they scored at a really high rate from possession to possession.”
With his team down four, Vukusic buried a 3-pointer from the right corner to pull Northwestern to within 44-43 with 2:45 remaining. Horner, whose errant inbounds pass led to Vukusic’s 3, then hit three free throws, but the Wildcats weren’t finished.
They pulled to within one on Evan Seacat’s 3 with 2:09 left.
Given the teams’ recent history at Welsh-Ryan Arena, what happened was no surprise.
The Wildcats won by one in overtime last season on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Jenkins, after rallying from 12 down with 3:27 left in regulation. And they beat Iowa by two in regulation two years ago on Vukusic’s long jumper with less than a second remaining.
This game was ugly but dramatic.
One sequence early in the second half summed up things.
First, a bounce pass by Iowa’s Greg Brunner’s scooted through the hands of an open Doug Thomas underneath. Hachad then tripped and lost his dribble, Iowa immediately turned the ball over, and Hachad committed a charge. Finally, Thomas mishandled another bounce pass—this one from Tony Freeman.
Northwestern’s struggles through the first 30 minutes came after a pre-game speech in which coach Bill Carmody tore into his team. Carmody was particularly upset about the previous day’s practice, which he called the worst “in my 30 years of coaching.”
And he directed much of his frustration at Doyle, who finished with eight points and two assists. Doyle, meanwhile, tore into the fans afterward.
He was upset that attendance was 5,764—about 2,400 shy of capacity.
“Northwestern has been known for its fair-weather fans,” he said. “If we win, I’m sure it will be crowded. It’s a joke they aren’t here when we’re playing one of the Top 25 teams in the country. It’s incredibly disappointing.”