EVANSTON-The last time these two teams got together, Northwestern left Iowa City with a comfortable 19-point win.
Thursday night's game at Welsh-Ryan Arena was quite a bit more difficult, but after suffering through two straight ugly road losses, the Wildcats will gladly take their 73-70 victory over the pesky Hawkeyes, even if they had to sweat it out down the stretch.
Michael Thompson scored 16 points to lead four Wildcats in double figures, and it was his free throw with :03 left and Northwestern clinging to a 2-point lead that closed the scoring.
"It's good to be back in the win column," said coach Bill Carmody in a bit of an understatement.
The Wildcats' spotty free-throw shooting allowed Iowa one last-ditch attempt to tie the game after Thompson made the second of his two shots from the foul line. But Zach McCabe's long inbounds heave to Jarryd Cole was deflected to preserve the Wildcat win.
It was a tooth-and-nail kind of game for Northwestern (15-10, 5-9 Big Ten), which took a commanding lead and basically held onto it the rest of the night. Iowa led only twice but wouldn't let the Wildcats pull away at any point.
"They really came back on us but weren't able to get over the hump," said Carmody about Iowa (10-16, 3-11). "It happened to us a bunch of times (this season)."
Drew Crawford and John Shurna each finished with 15 points, while Luka Mirkovic totaled 13 to go along with a team-high seven rebounds for Northwestern.
It was Mirkovic's 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:47 left that may have been the biggest shot of the game, pushing NU's lead to 72-66.
"I've really worked on my shot as of late," said Mirkovic, who blew kisses to the crowd after draining his big shot. "I was pretty comfortable when I shot it."
Northwestern came out of the tunnel firing in the first half, using 3-pointers to build its advantage.
"We talked about having a good start and we really got a good start tonight," said Carmody.
Shurna and Thompson each hit 3s to open the scoring, and the Cats hit six triples in the first 10 minutes as they built a 22-9 edge.
Iowa, however, began chipping away at the lead. McCabe gave the Hawkeyes a big lift off the bench, scoring 11 points, and after Cole hit a pair of free throws, Iowa had its first lead of the game, 37-35, with :56 left in the opening period.
Crawford then sank a layup and came up with a steal, and Thompson's driving layup with just two ticks left gave the Wildcats a 39-37 advantage going into the locker room.
The second half settled into a tussle. Iowa took a 2-point lead at the 18:29 mark, but Northwestern quickly regained it and held onto it for the rest of the contest. The Wildcats never breathed easily, though, as they weren't able to push their lead past 7 points.
Cole scored 17 points to lead Iowa, which had five scorers in double figures.
Northwestern won't have very long to celebrate its win. After a 9 a.m. practice on Friday, the Wildcats will take a 4.5-hour bus ride to Bloomington to take on Indiana on Saturday.