Tears flowed freely in the Northwestern locker room late Thursday after the Wildcats made a quick exit from the Big Ten tournament.
Some emotions clearly came as the finality of a season's end set in. But there was also the realization that the end of an era may also be looming.
Iowa claimed a 73-59 decision in the final opening-round match at the United Center. Now, attention shifts off the court and whether head coach Bill Carmody will remain or go after 13 seasons.
"[Athletic director] Jim Phillips and I will discuss this in the next couple of days and we'll go from there," Carmody said, who declined to elaborate on whether he wished to return.
Northwestern closed a season plagued by injuries and other issues at 13-19, after promise and potential were shattered early in the season.
"I think he [Carmody] did a terrific job with the cards he's been dealt," senior Alex Marcotullio said.
Thursday's game illustrated Northwestern's up-and-down season.
Iowa shut out the Wildcats for more than seven minutes to start while scoring almost any way it wanted at times. But the Wildcats also didn't fold, staging a comeback that ultimately fell short.
The No. 5 seeded Hawkeyes (21-11) advanced to a quarterfinal date with Michigan State. The 11th seeded Wildcats (13-19) dropped their ninth straight.
Roy Devyn Marble scored 19 points, Mike Gesell had 12 and Melsahn Besabe added 10 points and 12 rebounds for the winners. Northwestern's Reggie Hearn matched Marble with 19 points and 10 rebounds for his 23rd double-double of the season. Alex Olah had 12 and Tre Demps finished with 11.
Iowa completed a three-game season sweep with the win. The Hawkeyes beat the Wildcats 70-50 Jan. 13 in Evanston and 71-57 Feb. 9 in Iowa City.
Iowa shot just 2-for-9 (22.2 percent) early but still opened up a quick 6-0 lead.
Northwestern, meanwhile, missed seven straight shots and didn't score until Nikola Cerina's bank off the glass a full seven minutes and 24 seconds into the game. By that point, Iowa was already up 11-0.
The Wildcats then had a brief 7-0 run to cut The Hawkeyes lead to 15-9. But a Adam Woodbury three-point play and a Gesell three-point field goal quickly restored a double-digit lead that Iowa padded throughout the rest of the half.
Eight different players scored by halftime as Iowa opened up a 36-22 lead. After a poor shooting start, Northwestern improved to 8-for-25 (32 percent) but hit just 2-for-12 on three-point shooting.
"We got off to a bad start and turned the ball over in the first five minutes over four or five times times," Carmody said. "Getting in the hole we did, it just felt like we were trying to claw back most of the game."
Then it was Iowa's turn for sluggish shooting with a 1-for-7 start as Northwestern tried to nip at the deficit. The Hawkeyes hit 5-of-8 free throws to keep the Wildcats at arm's length.
But not for long. Iowa continued to miss shots while Northwestern got within 10 on a Hearn putback while Marcotullio's steal and layup cut the Hawkeye lead under 10 at 47-39.
Hearn got it to seven after a drive with 8:26 to play, but the Wildcats never got closer. Back-to-back threes from Marble and Eric May restored a 13-point lead at 56-43.
"We got it to seven or eight and Marble and May hit threes to make it 13 and we were never able to get it back."
Northwestern struggled through a hard-luck season plagued by injuries and a late-season slump. Still, the Wildcats' 13-19 finish was only its first losing season in five years.
"I thought it [the program] was going along nicely," Carmody said. 'This year when Swop [Jared Swopshire] went down it changed everything and we were basically playing all guards and a freshman center, so it got harder for our guys."
The previous four seasons saw post-season trips to the National Invitation Tournament. But Carmody's teams never reached the NCAA tournament, even with 20-win seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Still, he was the most successful Wildcat coach in the last 40 years. Of eight winning Northwestern seasons under five different coaches in that span, Carmody had five of them and has a current record of 192-210.
The Wildcats are now 6-16 all-time in Big Ten tournament play and have been knocked out of the first round nine times since the tourney debuted in 1998.
Northwestern reached the second round in 2010 and 2011, but bowed out 75-68 in overtime to Minnesota in the 2012 opener.