EVANSTON-If there is one lesson to take from Northwestern's embarrassing loss Sunday to Iowa, it's that shooting 19 percent from three-point range is not a winning formula.
Whatever hope Northwestern fans could cling to following a dominant win over Penn State was mercilessly ripped away as the Cats missed 21 three-pointers en route to a 70-50 defeat at the hands of the Hawkeyes.
On Thursday night, the Cats looked fast, in rhythm and, well, like a team. They shot 41 percent from beyond the arc against the Nittany Lions, forced 11 turnovers and had four players who scored in double figures.
But Sunday was a different story, as Iowa ran away from Wildcats in a Welsh-Ryan Arena doused in black-and-gold. The Cats couldn't shoot straight, produced as many turnovers as assists (nine) and had just two players score more than six points.
While Northwestern's defense was far from stellar -- the Cats allowed Iowa to shoot 54 percent after halftime on its way to 45 second-half points -- head coach Bill Carmody said the real problem lies on the other end of the floor, where the team has struggled all year.
"Our offense is really lacking," Carmody said. "We're having a hard time putting the ball in the basket."
This may have been the understatement of the evening. Northwestern (10-7, 1-3 Big Ten) shot only 5-for-26 from three-point range during the game and only 1-for-11 in the first half. And while Iowa (12-5, 1-3), which started 0-for-7 from deep, eventually started knocking down shots, hitting 4 of its last 9, the Cats never warmed up.
It was not as if Northwestern did not have open looks. Of the 26 launched three-pointers, Carmody said he only considered three or four to be heavily contested.
Northwestern's poor shooting was not limited to beyond the three-point line, either. The Cats hit just 15-of-51 shots overall (29.4 percent) and 15-of-25 free throws (60 percent). Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski led all Northwestern players with only 14 points, and the Cats' five starters combined for just 28.
When asked if Sobolewski, who made only 3-of-11 field goal attempts, should look to pass more, Carmody didn't mince his words.
"Who is he going to pass to?"
The answer to that question is not very evident since senior leader Drew Crawford went down for the season with a torn labrum.
Two of the possible options, fifth-year senior forward Jared Swopshire and true freshman forward Kale Abrahamson, disappointed against the Hawkeyes, combining for five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Against Penn State those two had combined for 27 points, with Swopshire leading the way with 17.
"[Swopshire] is trying," Carmody said. "He's giving what he can give."
Abrahamson, who Carmody called one of the nation's top recruits, looked lost at times Sunday night. He hesitated on a wide open three from the right side of the arc and only launched three shots.
"I'm really not scared to shoot," Abrahamson said. "The game has gotta come to you. You can't just jack up shots. The looks weren't there and the moment wasn't there."
Abrahamson may have seemed unwilling to shoot at times, but other Northwestern players certainly were not. Six Wildcats attempted multiple three-pointers in the game, but those players only connected on 4-of-24 shots from long range.
The only Wildcat who shot at least 50 percent from the floor? That would be redshirt freshman Mike Turner, who was 2-for-4 from field goal range and 1-for-1 from long distance.
Redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps, on the other hand, was 3-for-11 shooting in just 19 minutes.
More times than not this year, the Cats long-distance shooting will determine their fate. That was certainly the case against Iowa, when more than half of the team's shots (26 of 51) were from beyond the arc.
The Cats could have a night like they did against Penn State, when the starters shot over 50 percent from three point range, but they could just as easily shoot their way into a guaranteed loss.
"It's Big Ten basketball." said senior guard Alex Marcotullio, who shot just 20 percent (1-for-5) against the Hawkeyes. "You need to make shots."
Unfortunately, Northwestern currently lacks the needed inside scoring threat to keep a defense honest. With Crawford gone, freshman center Alex Olah needs to be more dominant down low to keep the Cats a multi-dimensional team. He was just 1-for-4 for three points in 11 minutes against Iowa.
"I thought that [Olah] would come along," Carmody said. "He's shying away from stuff. He's trying to avoid contact and he has to push through it."
In the meantime, the Cats will continue to launch threes in order to give themselves a chance.
Right now, it doesn't appear they have any other choice.