Inside the building's lower tunnel, both the Wildcats and Hawkeyes scurried out as the building was evacuated. Alex Olah, who suffered a possible concussion in the second half, was clearly disturbed as the loud alarm and flashing lights occupied the exits. Helped by a team doctor, Jared Swopshire left the arena walking with crutches to support a right-leg injury. The security staff ushered out all remaining to the exits.
As Coach Bill Carmody cleared the building, with the brash alarm sounding, he could only shake his head. When it rains, it pours.
It was billed as Northwestern's last gasp for a promising season. It entered Iowa City with a 4-6 record and eyed a key road victory. The score was 40-38 with 12 minutes remaining when it all fell apart.
Jared Swopshire hit the floor hard, lying underneath the hoops holding his right leg. He was helped off the court and would not return to action. In fact, he was unable to apply any pressure on it. Northwestern was forced to battle the upstart Hawkeyes without its starting frontcourt. Iowa would finish the game on a 31-17 run.
"It just got away from us," said senior guard Reggie Hearn, who led the Wildcats with 13 points. He has been there before this season.
Hearn will never be one for making excuses, and isn't going to start 24 games into the season. He would never admit the Wildcats just didn't have a chance without their two starters.
Carmody tried the smaller lineup featuring Kale Abrahamson, but the Iowa native compiled just eight points. He ran out the seldom-used Nikola Cerina, but sat him down after just three minutes. He tried to set up three-point shots and switched to the 1-3-1 zone defense, but Iowa's Fran McCaffery was ready to counter.
There was nothing they could do.
Most pundits, me included, wrote off Northwestern's hope when Drew Crawford had season-ending shoulder surgery, joining the suspended Jershon Cobb on the sidelines. Yet, the resilient Wildcats kept bouncing back.
First, a road upset of No. 22 Illinois inspired hope, then a triumph over 12th-ranked Minnesota built positive vibes. After two miserable losses, NU earned a needed win over Purdue, keeping its postseason dreams on life support. But the plug was pulled on Saturday.
It was a bad day that serves as a microcosm for the season. Injuries and shooting woes hampered its final chance. There was nothing more those Wildcats still standing could do.
"It's tough for team morale," senior guard Alex Marcotullio admitted. "But we have to stay up,"
Leaving the locker room to the shrilling alarm, with a four-hour bus ride ahead, the Wildcats hung their heads—by far the lowest all season. An important chance was lost, and likely, too, is their remaining hope.