IOWA CITY, Iowa — No. 23 Iowa did its part with a 59-44 win over Wisconsin inside a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday to complete the best home season in school history, but now the Hawkeyes have to wait for a miracle upset 545 miles away on Sunday for a share of the Big Ten title.
The Hawkeyes (22-8, 11-5 Big Ten) are tied with Illinois (25-5, 11-5) for second place in the Big Ten Conference race, a half-game behind No. 9 Ohio State, which plays host to lowly Purdue for a chance to win the league championship outright.
“Go Purdue!” senior forward Greg Brunner said during his farewell speech following senior’s day.
If the Boilermakers (9-17, 3-12) can boil up an upset, Iowa would hold a share of the championship for the first time since 1978-1979. But even without that, history was made inside Carver-Hawkeye.
This team has become the first since 1965-66 to go undefeated at home, and the first to go undefeated inside Carver, which opened in 1983 — the year many seniors were born.
- The Hawkeyes’ 17 home wins this season is a new school record, and the 18-straight wins inside Carver is a streak that ranks fifth nationally.
- Iowa has clinched no worse than a No. 2 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. A Purdue win would give the Hawkeyes the top seed.
- The Hawkeyes have won nine games this season against teams ranked in the top 25 by either the Associated Press or the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ polls. Wisconsin was ranked 25th by the coaches but wasn’t ranked by the AP.
- The Hawkeyes have picked up their first win against the Badgers in four years, when they beat Wisconsin in the 2002 Big Ten tournament. It was the first time any of the seniors on the current team had beaten the Badgers.
But the Badgers (19-10, 9-7) weren’t going to give any gifts to the departing class that included Brunner, Jeff Horner, who led Iowa with a game-high 22 points, Doug Thomas, Erek Hansen and Justin Wieck.
They kept the game close in the rough and tumble first half, and Iowa escaped with a 24-22 halftime lead.
But the Hawkeyes dominated the second half and outscored Wisconsin by 13, returning the favor from the Jan. 5 matchup between the two teams. The Badgers slammed the Hawkeyes in the second half of that game, despite Iowa’s two-point lead after the first period.
“We were up two, and we were up two at Wisconsin too, so they came out and kicked our butt and so we came out and returned the favor,” said Horner, who had his second-highest point total this season. “Emotions were high and we were definitely pumped and ready to go. The second half we kind of settled down.”
Iowa opened the game with eight straight misses in the first four minutes, and the Badgers held the lead for 12 minutes, 38 seconds of the first half, thanks to eight points, including two 3-pointers, by Kammron Taylor.
Taylor led Wisconsin with 11 points in the game, going 4 of 9 from the field and 2-2 at the line. Forward Alando Tucker, the team’s leading scorer, added 10.
“I was a little up-tight today because you want to win so bad for these seniors, and to have them go out with a win,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “I think the team kind of read me.”
Defense, which has been the Hawkeyes mainstay, limited Wisconsin’s abilities to take advantage of the initially nervous Iowa team.
Tucker, who was guarded by Adam Haluska and Alex Thompson, was held to 11 points under his average. Forwards Jason Chappell and Kevin Guillickson were non-factors in the matchup.
“We just tried to front (Tucker) a little more,” said Haluska, who scored 16 points. “They’re going to him a lot, and I thought (we) did a good job when they did give him the ball to try to make him rush the shot a little bit.”
The Badgers opened the second half with seven misses and were held to a pair of free throws for the first 6 ½ minutes of the period.
Starting with a three-point play by Haluska with 13:10 on the clock, the Hawkeyes mounted a 14-2 run, scoring 11-straight in one stretch, that got them out to an 18-point lead — their largest of the game.
Iowa couldn’t have done it without Horner, who was 9 of 17 from the field including three 3-pointers. The point guard also had seven rebounds but had his first zero-assist game since playing Wisconsin as a sophomore. The two times Horner hasn’t had a single assist in a game were both against the Badgers.
“That’s definitely awkward,” Horner said of his no assists. “I kind of had to be a scorer today. I’ve been one of those kids where whatever you need me to do I’ll do it. Today we needed scoring, so I did it.”
Alford said Horner’s contribution was essential in a game that lacked production from other players.
“He did a very good job scoring in a game where we needed him to score,” the coach said. “With the flow going the way it was going, we needed him to score.”
According to Horner’s farewell speech, the Hawkeyes still have nine games left to play — a total that would mean a Big Ten tournament win as well as a national championship — but the game was a profoundly emotional one for those playing their last time at home.
“I told myself during warm-ups to look around a couple of times because I wasn’t going to play here again,” Horner said. “Hopefully, this senior class left a legacy and the other players can continue it. I just wish them good luck.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com