It wasn't pretty early on and took an unusual second-half momentum swing, but the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers stayed undefeated with a 75-71 win over the No. 22 Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday, Jan. 5.
SportsCenter's Twitter account capped off the result with a shocking statistic:
Going into a hostile environment didn't faze Iowa in its second conference game of the season. It got out to an early lead and looked keen on keeping it.
The first half was all Hawkeyes. An early 13-1 run fueled by lockdown defense, along with nothing doing offensively for Wisconsin, allowed Iowa to pull out to a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes of the game.
Wisconsin cut the lead to 21-20 with eight minutes remaining in the first half, but Iowa responded with a 14-4 run to jump out to a 35-24 lead at halftime.
The Badgers battled back in the second half and quickly made it a ballgame, trimming the deficit to two just before this game turned on its head—during a TV timeout.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery exploded during a stoppage in play, clearly upset with some no-calls from the previous possession. His uncalled-for tirade resulted in a technical, but he wasn't done there.
After that, McCaffery immediately stormed toward a group of officials, appearing to make contact with one before being ejected from the game.
Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thought the move was rather childish of the 54-year-old:
Amazingly, the tirade resulted in six free throws for Wisconsin (four for the technicals and two for a foul against Iowa's Gabriel Olasani), putting the Badgers up for the first time since the opening minutes. BadgerNation's Benjamin Worgull was on hand to see McCaffery talk with his team before leaving the floor:
The Big Ten Network tweeted a video of the ordeal:
The Badgers made five of those six free throws, which aided a 10-2 run that put Wisconsin in control of the game.
Iowa would keep it close without its head coach on the bench, cutting the deficit to one with under three minutes left. It was then that Wisconsin's go-to player, Sam Dekker, hit his first field goal of the game—a clutch three to extend the Badger lead.
There's no doubt that McCaffery's ejection was a huge turning point in this game, but it really started right after halftime. The Badgers had 15 to the Hawkeyes' six in the half at that point and the six free throws that resulted were just help on top of a momentum swing that had already begun.
Going into the second half down double digits, this undefeated Wisconsin team certainly took a long look in the mirror at halftime. It paid off, as the Badgers dug deep to find a way to win a tough matchup.
ESPN's Dick Vitale liked what he saw, giving quite the endorsement to Bo Ryan's team:
This Big Ten classic is only a sign of what's to come for what should be a thrilling conference slate. Once again, the conference is home to many of the nation's best teams and looks to boast a lot of depth among the middle-tier teams.
Fran McCaffery, Head Coach, Iowa: F
There's getting a harmless technical to motivate your players, and then there's this.
Wisconsin enjoyed some favorable calls and no-calls to claw back within two points of the lead, and McCaffery just blew a gasket. Getting one technical wasn't enough, as he proceeded to bump into a referee and get ejected from the game.
The Badgers made all four of their technical free throws, meaning McCaffery directly cost Iowa four points. With ESPN's Jeff Goodman noting there was contact on the exchange, you'd have to wonder if the coach will be hit with any sort of suspension by the Big Ten:
Simply put, the Hawkeyes went from being in the lead to facing a deficit, and they lost some of the flair and intensity they played with prior to that. McCaffery could've looked like a genius had he only picked up one "T" and his Iowa team won the game, but he went way too far.
After the game, Worgull and Sean Merriman of BTN.com shared what McCaffery had to say about his actions:
Roy Devyn Marble, G, Iowa: B+
Iowa couldn't hold on to a double-digit lead in the second half, but it wasn't the fault of Roy Devyn Marble.
Marble finished with 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting, proving to be Iowa's best bet for instant offense in a game that saw plenty of offensive struggles each way. Shooting below 50 percent isn't ideal, but it's expected when one player is such a focal point.
He also came up big in the final moments, hitting a three-pointer with seven seconds left to trim the deficit to one possession and put the pressure on Wisconsin.
If the Hawkeyes could've dispersed some of Marble's shot attempts around the team, it may have helped. However, nobody was more dialed in on the offensive end than him.
Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin: C-
When Sam Dekker struggles on offense, the Wisconsin offense suddenly becomes much less dangerous. That was the case for much of this game.
Dekker finished with eight points on 2-for-12 shooting, struggling from the field for the whole game. Even when the Wisconsin offense started rolling, Dekker continued to struggle.
Dekker didn't hit his first field goal until a little over two minutes remained, but it was a huge three that put Wisconsin up by four points after getting an offensive board. He was otherwise invisible on offense.
The sophomore leads the Badgers in scoring this season, averaging 14.5 points per game prior to this one. He wasn't his usual self on offense against Iowa, though, and it's the main reason why this game unfolded the way it did.
Wisconsin will stay at home for a Wednesday, Jan. 8 matchup with Illinois at Kohl Center, as the Badgers look to improve to 3-0 in conference play and stay undefeated.
Meanwhile, Iowa will return home to play Northwestern on Thursday, Jan. 9 before a tough road test against Ohio State on Sunday, Jan. 12.