EVANSTON, Ill. — This isn’t the Northwestern most of us are used to seeing.
And it sure didn’t look like the same Iowa team that chopped one of the Big Ten’s kingpins down to size a few nights earlier.
Northwestern, led by junior point guard Bryant McIntosh, began shredding Iowa from the opening tap Sunday night and it never really stopped. It also became the first team all season to really silence Iowa’s Peter Jok on its way to a resounding 89-54 victory over the Hawkeyes at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Wildcats, who never had beaten Iowa by more than 22 points previously, are hoping to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their history and if Sunday is any indication, they’ll do it.
Heck, they may do more than that. Sunday’s victory moves them into a tie for third place in the Big Ten standings at 4-2 (15-4 overall), just a half game behind first-place Maryland.
The loss dropped Iowa to 3-3 in league play, 11-8 overall, and sent head coach Fran McCaffery back to the same drawing board he faced following a 22-point rout at the hands of Purdue in the Big Ten opener a few weeks ago.
McCaffery’s postgame news conference was as candid and accurate as it was terse.
Did he see anything he liked from his team? “Not much.’’
What was the biggest problem? “Pretty much everything.’’
Did he see a few little signs of life from his team in the second half? “Very little.’’
McIntosh did pretty much anything he wanted against the Iowa defense, flipping in 20 points and adding 10 assists. Scottie Lindsey collected 22 points and 8 rebounds, Dererk Pardon added 14 points and 9 rebounds, and Vic Law netted 12 points while also doing much of the defensive work on Jok.
The Iowa star came into the game averaging 22.9 points per contest and had not scored fewer than 13 in a game all season. He finished with only four points on 2-for-9 shooting and after getting a career-high eight assists on Thursday against Purdue, he had a goose egg in that statistic Sunday.
With the game getting out of hand very early in the second half, McCaffery benched most of his starters. As a result, Jok played only six minutes after halftime.
“I think pretty much everything went wrong,’’ Jok said. “We weren’t ready from the get-go. We didn’t follow the game plan … They started off hot. One of our main things was to not let them start off hot because once they start off hot they’re a difficult team to beat.’’
Northwestern jumped to a quick 8-0 lead, then later in the half went on 14-1 scoring run that included four Iowa turnovers, pushing the margin to 39-23. It was 44-32 at halftime.
There was another big run in the first few minutes of the second half that prompted McCaffery to remove his starters en masse. After a few good minutes by the reserves, Northwestern went on a crushing 20-1 tear that included four dunks, three of them by Pardon.
Four dunks? That used to be a month’s work for Northwestern.
Not anymore. These guys are much more athletic than any Wildcats team any of us has ever seen and they do just about everything well. They shot 59.7 percent from the field, outrebounded Iowa 39-24 and had 29 assists on 37 made baskets.
It was pretty much total destruction.
“I’ll say this, they are a team that is very together,’’ McCaffery said. “We were clearly pretty disjointed tonight.’’
The Iowa players struggled to explain why they didn’t put up more of a fight.
“There was no mental focus or toughness,’’ said freshman Tyler Cook, who shared scoring honors for Iowa with 14 points. “They were obviously the tougher team tonight. They were more locked in than we were.’’
Jok and some of the other players admitted they thought these sort of games were behind them, that they had turned a corner after being drubbed in similar fashion in the first of their two meetings with Purdue.
“It’s a lot like the Purdue game in my opinion,’’ said freshman Ryan Kriener, who also scored 14 points. “And I think we’re going to go back home and we’re going to regroup like we did after the Purdue game, and we’re going to keep working and we’re going to learn from it.’’
For what it’s worth, the 6-foot-9 Kriener was one of the few highlights for the Hawkeyes. Probably the only one.
After having a breakout game Thursday in the rematch with Purdue, he drained 6 of 7 shots on Sunday.
“I’ve been saying for a long time that this kid is good and that he needs to play,’’ McCaffery said. “He’s going to play now.’’
Jok was adamant that the Hawkeyes will bounce back again. They need to do it fast. Maryland comes to Iowa City on Thursday.
“It’s a roller coaster,’’ Jok said. “There’s going to be good times and there’s going to be bad times. This is one of the bad times.’’