IOWA CITY, Iowa — The crowd of 13,226 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena held its collective breath Wednesday night as sophomore point guard Jeff Horner took his fifth 3-point attempt of the night with just a second on the clock.
That one shot would determine whether Iowa could mount a 15-point comeback after an exhausting, yet confidence boosting, double-overtime victory against Indiana on the road last Saturday. That one shot would determine whether Iowa would defeat 14th-ranked Wisconsin, the leader of the Big Ten Conference. That one shot would determine whether the Hawkeyes would rise up to being one game behind Michigan State and Illinois atop the league standings, or merely level at 5-5 right in the middle of the pack.
And everyone, from Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan to Horner himself, thought it was going to fall.
But it didn’t.
The Badgers retained their hold on the top spot in the Big Ten with a 7-2 league record and improved to 16-4 overall by defeating the Hawkeyes 54-52. Iowa drops to 12-9 overall and levels at 5-5 in the conference.
“I was open, it felt good and it unfortunately didn’t go in,” said Horner, who scored five points in the matchup, going 2-of-9 from the field. “It’s very frustrating to get a good look because (Wisconsin) doubled on (Pierre Pierce), and it’s frustrating especially since it was the game winner.”
Wisconsin’s defenders had double-teamed sophomore forward Pierre Pierce on the last play after he had brought the ball downcourt following a missed jumper by Zach Morley, leaving Horner wide open on the right edge of the perimeter. After Horner’s shot had bounced off the left edge of the rim, there was enough time for senior forward Glen Worley to grab a rebound but not enough for the tying put-back.
“The guys did a tremendous job, and we got a great look,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “If we had to design everything back up again, that’s who we’d want to take it and that’s where we would want him to take it from. You make some and you miss some, and Jeff will make more than he misses.”
“I felt good that we put ourselves in that position, but it would have felt good to come out with a win,” said Worley, who scored six points – enough for him to become the 35th player in Iowa history to reach the 1,000-point club. “We fought hard, and obviously we have a lot of competitive people on our team.”
After holding a seven-point halftime advantage, 32-25, Wisconsin was able to build a 15-point lead by 13:17 in the second half after a 12-4 run, led by junior guard Devin Harris with seven points in the seven-minute stretch. Harris had a team-high 16 points, going 7-of-13 from the field with two 3-pointers.
Harris was also a defensive thorn in Iowa’s side, defending Horner and holding the Hawkeyes’ second-best scorer to single digits for the first time since Michigan defeated Iowa on Jan. 28.
“He made it tough on Jeff and in the end Jeff still had a great look,” Alford said. “This will be a good tape for Jeff because, other than the shot, there haven’t been too many teams to have shut Jeff out of the assist column. That’s what I want Jeff to look at more than anything else tonight.”
“Devin’s a very good defender, and I think one of the better defenders in the Big Ten,” said Horner. “It’s tough to get any open shots, and every time I did he was right there to contest it. He’s just a great all around player.”
But despite the scoring fluctuations and the final shot of the game, Alford cracked the game up to turnovers. The Hawkeyes had 19 compared to 13 by the Badgers. Wisconsin was able to take those opportunities and turn them into 20 points.
“There’s a sign in our locker room: Victory favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes,” Alford said after his fifth loss in the last seven games. “And we just didn’t make the fewest mistakes tonight. I thought it was a very even game, except for the mistakes in handling the basketball.
“Inside one minute, we did exactly what we had hoped to have done.”
While Alford criticized turnovers, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan compared his team to a 1970s-era poster featuring a cat barely holding onto a clothes line.
“We were like that cat hanging in there,” he said. “I think at the end (Iowa) just came up a little short. If we were in the same situation and we were down by two, I don’t know if we would have made it.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com