EVANSTON, Ill. Iowa's men's basketball team needed this one for validation.
The Hawkeyes had lost five straight to Northwestern and three consecutive games to open Big Ten play. It's still early in the season, but Sunday's 70-50 win against the Wildcats provided a salve to Iowa's wounded egos.
"This was huge for us," said Iowa senior Eric May, who scored seven points in 23 minutes. "Everybody knew it. I told the guys this was a must-win game for us."
It also was a feel-good game for Iowa (12-5, 1-3 Big Ten) for several reasons. Junior guard Devyn Marble returned after missing a game with a sprained ankle. Sophomore Josh Oglesby broke out of a shooting slump with four 3-pointers. Iowa won at a true road location for the first time this year while ending a four-game slide at Welsh-Ryan Arena. And the Hawkeyes finally mastered the Northwestern 1-3-1 zone trap that had caused recent anguish and heartbreak.
Getting the stench of recent losses to No. 5 Indiana, No. 2 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State also was essential.
"Any time you win on the road in this league it's special thing," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "It's so hard. For us, with a couple of gut-wrenching losses, getting our clocks cleaned at Michigan, it's a great feeling going on the road and getting a win."
"People were kind of getting down in the locker room like we need to focus and stuff," said Oglesby, who scored 14 points. "But those are three pretty good teams and three great programs. A win (Sunday) here, especially at Northwestern, is big for us."
Oglesby had knocked down only two of 17 3-point attempts in Iowa's most recent four games. He missed his first three 3-point attempts Sunday, but then drilled two back-t0-back to give Iowa a 17-point lead midway through the second half.
Oglesby, a sophomore from Cedar Rapids, hit four 3-pointers overall.
"It feels good, especially because I was in a slump for a while," Oglesby said. "I couldn't make anything. I was kind of getting down on myself. But I just kept working after practice, getting in the gym and shoot. It paid off."
McCaffery said he continued to have confidence in Oglesby.
"He's been killing it in practice," McCaffery said. "We keep going to him, and he knows we're going to keep going to him. I think the great thing for him (Sunday) was he missed a couple early and then he kept shooting, Sometimes he tends to stop shooting."
Marble played 30 minutes and scored eight points. He helped spur Iowa early with a dunk, then drilled three jumpers within an eight-possession span to boost the Hawkeyes' lead from one point to 10.
"I'm not as fast and as quick as I normally am, but I was good enough to be effective," Marble said. "I think I was able to help the team out in a very positive way."
Iowa also eliminated the effectiveness of Northwestern's 1-3-1 defense. The Hawkeyes committed just nine turnovers down from 18 against Michigan State and had 22 assists on 29 field goals.
"We had a couple of miscues early when they went to it, kind of like last year up at our place," said McCaffery, referring to a four-point loss. "We solved it and then we had a couple of turnovers and we went back and did a much better job. It's one of those defenses, the more you see, the easier is to attack."
The win allows Iowa to move past the stinging losses and avoid the pressure that accompanies four straight league losses. It gives the Hawkeyes a fresh outlook on its remaining Big Ten schedule.
"Now it's a new streak going," May said.