Badger Devil Magic is one of the great enduring plagues of our time. It infects multiple sports, but especially football and men's basketball. It can be identified by its recurring symptoms of bullshit, utter bullshit, and strait bullshit during games involving the vile Wisconsin Badgers.
For 30-odd minutes on Monday night, Iowa City was the site of a full-on outbreak of Badger Devil Magic and Carver-Hawkeye Arena was drowning in bullshit. After being tied 30-30 at halftime, Wisconsin spent the first part of the second half pulling away from Iowa. Their lead was three, then six, then eight, then ten. Iowa cut into the lead a few times, but could never sustain a run of their own to tie the game or retake the lead. Finally, with 7:13 to go, D'Mitrik Trice nailed a three-pointer to put Wisconsin up 12, 57-45. Friends, we're not gonna lie: things looked bleak. The Devil Magic was winning -- again. Just as it's done so often when Wisconsin has lined up opposite Iowa.
But this is a different Iowa team. These players aren't as haunted by past failures to Wisconsin. The new faces on this year's team definitely don't care about no damn Badger Devil Magic. After Luka Garza split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 11, Joe Toussaint drove into the lane in transition off a steal and nailed a layup -- and drew a foul on Brad Davison in the process. His old-fashioned three-point play cut the lead to 8 points. On Iowa's next possession, Joe Wieskamp drove the lane and again drew a foul -- on Brad Davison. He made both free throws and the deficit shrunk to six. Next Iowa possession: CJ Fredrick for THREEEEEEEEEEEEE. In just over two minutes, Iowa had cut a 12-point deficit to just three points, with five minutes to play.
Both offenses went silent for a while after that -- over the next three minutes of the game the only point scored by either team was a free throw by Joe Wieskamp -- but a pair of free throws from Luka Garza with 2:18 remaining finally tied the game up. The was short-lived, though, as Wisconsin retook the lead on a Brevin Pritzl layup -- their first points since that aforementioned Trice three-pointer (back at the 7:13 mark). Iowa's response was... a clanked three-point attempt by Connor McCaffery. (Not ideal!) Fortunately, they recovered the offensive board and on the ensuing possession Joe Toussaint nailed a short jumper in the lane and got fouled; he made the free throw to give Iowa a slim one-point lead.
Iowa's defense forced another miss and Joe Wieskamp made a layup off a beautiful curl into the lane. And then things got even better because the officials went to the monitors to review the play -- and determined that Brad Davison had illegally hooked Connor McCaffery and hauled him to the floor on that play. That's a technical foul. The fact that Wisconsin's chance to win the game was effectively ended by Brad Davison being (finally) nailed for dirty play was... *chef's kiss*. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving asshole.
It was just a matter of making free throws after that, which Iowa did well enough -- they 6/8 free throws in the final 32 seconds of the game. All told, Iowa ended the game on a 23-5 run, taking a 12-point deficit and turning it into a 6-point win. The win probability chart for this game is truly absurd:
Oh brad nooooooo pic.twitter.com/Sw5H8dHw5c— Trekking_Wombat (@Trekking_Wombat) January 28, 2020
Needless to say, these are not games we are accustomed to seeing Iowa win. These are the games Iowa has typically lost in recent years, often in heart-breaking, gut-churning fashion. Iowa's shooting was, for the most part, utterly abysmal tonight; they made just 33.3% (20/60) of their field goals and they were a ghastly 15% (3/20) from behind the arc. The last time they shot that poorly was... well, it was the last time they lost a game, back in that dreadful loss to Nebraska almost three weeks ago. They hoisted enough bricks to get union cards tonight -- and they won anyway.
We have to give some deserved credit to Iowa's defense for this win. Wisconsin's offense isn't particularly good generally -- and they weren't tonight, either, aside from a few spurts -- but Iowa still held them to 0.89 points per possession on 37.5% shooting overall (28.6% from deep). And they really locked down in that final seven-minute stretch when they put their comeback pants on; after going up 57-45, Wisconsin went 2/9 from the field, plus a pair of missed free throws and four turnovers. Iowa extended their press, which bothered the Wisconsin ballhandlers and forced them into some bad decisions. And in the half-court they were able to deny Wisconsin good looks and usually prevent them from getting to the offensive glass as well.
Wisconsin still managed to burn a lot of clock on their offensive possessions -- that's kind of their thing, no matter what -- but those turned into very long, very empty possessions when they weren't able to get any points from them. If Wisconsin is able to make a few more buckets in that stretch, they probably win this game because Iowa may not have had enough possessions in the game to complete their comeback. But Iowa's defense kept them from getting points in those possessions and finally found enough offense of their own to finish the comeback.
Individually Iowa's standout performer was -- who else? -- Luka Garza. The big man had another big game, going off for 21 points and 18 (!) rebounds, plus three blocks. It wasn't his most efficient game -- he was just 6/17 from the field -- but he got enough buckets and he was a force at the foul line, making 9/13. CJ Fredrick had another big game, posting 17 points on 5/10 shooting and 2/5 from 3-point range -- including another very big late game three during Iowa's comeback effort. Joe Wieskamp had one of the quieter double-doubles you're likely to see, going for 12 points and 10 rebounds. Like Garza (and, well, most everyone on Iowa), he struggled from the floor (4/12), but he made some big shots late. Joe Toussaint was the final Iowa player in double figures with 11 points on 4/8 shooting. His two three-point plays during Iowa's comeback were absolutely critical, especially the first one since that seemed to trigger Iowa's entire rally. Down 12 with 7 minutes to go, this game was slipping away -- but Toussaint gave Iowa a lifeline.
What. A. Game. For 30-odd minutes basketball was dumb and terrible. And then it was beautiful and wonderful. Iowa's 15-5 now (the fourth 15-5 or better start in Fran's tenure at Iowa), and winners of nine in a row at home and five in a row overall in the Big Ten. They're tied for 2nd in the league at 6-3 with Maryland and Rutgers, a game back of Michigan State and Illinois.
This game was the start of a monster week for Iowa basketball -- they head on the road to face a surging Maryland team on Thursday night and then welcome a red-hot Illinois team to Carver-Hawkeye Arena next Sunday. Winning both of those games is going to be very difficult, which is why getting the win tonight was so vital. It wasn't easy (at all) -- it never is with that damn Badger Devil Magic in the air -- but they got the W they needed. Badger Devil Magic? Not today, Satan.