EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern used a streak of long-range success late in the game to sneak past the University of Iowa 55-49 on Saturday afternoon in Big Ten Conference men's basketball inside Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Hawkeyes grabbed a seven-point lead at 39-32 with 11 minutes to go before Northwestern began to warm up. Iowa is 14-15 overall, 4-12 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats improved to 16-11, 7-9.
It was another tough day on the road (Iowa is 0-9 in the league and 1-11 overall in road games) and another close and maddening loss (eight UI league setbacks by eight points or less).
"This was different because we made decisions that were contrary to winning," UI head coach Todd Lickliter said. "I think it's a case of just not gritting your teeth. It's not making winning plays."
"We had to play pretty good to be close, why would we not want to finish the thing?" Lickliter said. "You have to enjoy the challenge of executing while you're ahead. I know it can happen. I just want to be a good team and a good team that is consistent. Once you've done something well, you ought to do that over and over again, not by crossing your fingers."
The Hawkeyes made 19 of 51 field goals (7 of 25 from three-point range), but they were uncharacteristically shaky from the line (4 of 8). After being out-rebounded by six in the first half, Iowa came back strong on the boards to hold a 31-30 edge at the end of the game. Aside from Kelly, the rest of the Hawkeyes were 3 of 16 from long range.
"We're young and people have been supportive," Lickliter said. "But still, people want to win. It's nobody's fault but our own for not being more consistent."
Kelly carried the scoring load for the Hawkeyes in the first half. His second three-pointer during the final 1:46 brought Iowa to within one point at 23-22 -- a score that held until halftime. Prior to the back-to-back treys by Kelly, the Hawkeyes were 1 of 8 from long range.
Iowa made 9 of 20 field goals in the first half (45.0 percent), but struggled from the line with Tate converting just 1 of 4 attempts. Northwestern sank7 of 8 free throws and held a 16-10 edge in rebounding. The Hawkeye defense limited Northwestern to a 35-percent success rate from the floor (7 of 20).
Kelly scored 12 points in the first half, making 5 of 9 field goals (2 of 5 from three-point). Gatens scored Iowa's first five points, but played just nine minutes and sitting the final 11 minutes with two fouls.
The Wildcats went on a 4-0 run to start the second half, but Kelly answered with his third straight three-pointer to cut the deficit to 27-25. Good ball-movement and a three-point field goal by Aaron Fuller (assist from Gatens) gave Iowa its first lead of the second half, 31-29, with 13:48 remaining. It was Iowa's first lead in nearly 21 minutes.
Devan Bawinkel's first three-pointer of the game gave the Hawkeyes a 36-32 edge with just under 12 minutes to play and Kelly's fourth consecutive trey gave Iowa its biggest lead at 39-32 with 11 minutes left. Three-straight three-pointers by Michael Thompson and a long-range jumper by Kevin Coble lifted the Wildcats back to the lead, 44-43, at the 8:03 mark. Iowa would not regain the lead.
Northwestern was red-hot from distance to go up by four (47-43), but the Hawkeyes refused to go away. Layups by Jarryd Cole and Kelly tied the game at 47 with 4:31 remaining. The biggest dagger came from Wildcat Craig Moore -- cold most of the game -- who swished a three-point field goal with 53 seconds left that gave Northwestern a 52-47 lead. Gatens scored on an in-bound from Kelly with 31.7 left to pull within three at 52-49 before the Wildcats began playing keep-away.
The Hawkeyes wrap up the regular season with home games against Ohio State on Tuesday, March 3 (8:05 p.m. tip), and against Penn State on Saturday, March 7 (1:05 p.m. tip).