Sometimes, in the course of a long basketball season, there comes a night where things just don't go your way. For 36 minutes Sunday night, it looked like Northwestern would be that night for Iowa. The defense couldn't stop the Wildcats, especially senior forward Vic Law. Every loose ball seemed to roll to a Northwestern player. Every rebound bounced into the hands of a Wildcat. Every Iowa layup bounced off the back of the rim and out. Every circus shot from Northwestern either fell or set up a putback. Where, at least on paper, Northwestern really didn't have the bodies to hang with Iowa's front line, in practice they had put Luka Garza in foul trouble early and forced Ryan Kriener into one of his worst performances of the season. Northwestern led by six at the half, and by 15 with 4:30 left to play. This was the bad loss that felt inevitable all season.
It started innocuously enough, with a Tyler Cook free throw. Iowa went to a full-court press, and Joe Wieskamp forced a turnover. His layup attempt drew a foul and two more points at the line. Jordan Bohannon, who had been virtually invisible all day, made two more free throws off another turnover.
And then Number Three made a three.
Bohannon and Wieskamp each made a three-point shot, though they went in around a pair of Northwestern layups. At the two-minute mark, Iowa was still down eight.
And then Number Three made another three.
Iowa forced a stop, and Northwestern overplayed the three-point shot, giving Wieskamp an easy layup at the 42 second mark, cutting the lead to three. Iowa was forced to foul, and Dererk Pardon canned two free throws, but Bohannon got free for a quick layup. A missed Northwestern free throw and Isaiah Moss layup cut the lead to one. Vic Law split two free throws off the ensuing foul, and a kicked ball gave Iowa an inbounds from the sideline, down two with three seconds remaining.
And then, with three seconds on the board, Number Three made one more three.
February Big Ten basketball is all about probabilities. This wouldn't have been the loss that would have pulled the wheels off the wagon, probably. This wouldn't have booted Iowa out of the NCAA Tournament, or even onto the bubble, probably. Iowa would have taken the next six days to right the ship and gotten better at Rutgers next weekend, probably. Had what just happened not, Iowa would probably have been fine.
But if this is going to move from a quality season to something special, Iowa would need the improbable to happen at least once. Sunday night was the first time we've seen it in a long, long time. Iowa had a 2.6% chance of winning at the five-minute mark; that dropped to roughly 0.7% when Northwestern went up 15 at the 4:30 mark. The last time Bohannon did this particular magic trick, two winters ago at Wisconsin, Iowa had dropped to a 1.8% chance of winning in the last few minutes. And maybe that's the special sauce for this program, and this team: Jordan Bohannon is a gosh darn magician.
In any case, Iowa wins a game it never wins, a game it never should have won. And we can probably quit looking for all those 'probably's now.