Ben Brust hit four straight free throws after Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was hit with back-to-back technical fouls, helping turn momentum in Wisconsin’s favor as the No. 4 Badgers beat the No. 22 Hawkeyes 75-71.
Brust struggled in the first half Sunday, missing all three of his shots. But he rebounded in the second half, scoring 19 points to lead the Badgers and hitting all six of his foul shots.
Wisconsin (15-0, 2-0 Big Ten) matched the best start in school history, tying the 1911-12 and 1913-14 teams.
“I can tell you those were the four hardest free throws I’ve ever taken in my life,” Brust said. “They didn’t feel that good. But they went in, and that’s all that counts.”
McCaffery said he already sensed the momentum moving away from the Hawkeyes (12-3, 1-1) before he was ejected. Brust opened the half with a 3-pointer, and Wisconsin was chipping away after trailing 35-24 at half, only the second time the Badgers have been behind at the break all season.
The game was physical at times, drawing loud protests from both coaches. But McCaffery boiled over after a foul was called on Gabriel Olaseni that sent Nigel Hayes to the line. The back-to-back technicals led to his ejection with 12 minutes to play, and he continued to confront the officials as his assistants tried to restrain him.
Brust then hit all four free throws, and Hayes converted one of two on the personal.
That turned a 41-39 Iowa lead into 44-41 Wisconsin advantage. Hayes then scored on a drive to cap off a 12-2 run.
McCaffery refused to detail what he said to officials or what his issue was with the officiating, saying he was unable to do so. He noted when he’s been whistled for technicals before, there’s usually at least 12 minutes left in the game and an opportunity for the Hawkeyes to decide if they’re going to play better.
McCaffery also insisted his team did not lose the game because of his ejection and the ensuing foul shots.
“What I feel bad about is getting the second one,” McCaffery said. “I think the first one, it’s safe to say, I kind of went after that a little bit.”
Iowa was able to fight back and would not go away.
After Hayes missed a wild shot, Roy Marble, who led Iowa with 27 points, collected the outlet pass and drilled a 3 to pull the Hawkeyes within 64-63 with just less than 3 minutes to go.
But Sam Dekker answered right back. He grabbed a miss by Brust, got the ball back later in the possession and drained a 3 to put Wisconsin up 67-63.
Aaron White failed to convert on a layup on Iowa’s next possession, and both teams traded missed 3s before Dekker converted a three-point play off a fast break. That pushed Wisconsin’s lead to 70-63 with 1:07 left, and Wisconsin held off Iowa’s final flurry.
Josh Gasser added 14 points for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan downplayed the significance of McCaffery’s ejection on momentum, saying he’s seen teams respond to that situation by regrouping and winning.
“I thought we were making a push before that and when things like that happen in a game, you just go to the line, you shoot your free throws and you keep playing,” he said.
Iowa was in command for much of the first half as Wisconsin struggled to find its shooting touch. The Hawkeyes were dominant on the glass, turning 11 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points. Wisconsin, meanwhile, grabbed nine offensive rebounds but only got one point out of them.
The Badgers fell behind 19-9 by missing 12 of their first 13 shots from the field and three of six free throws. Wisconsin responded with a 13-4 run to pull within a point. But Iowa again went on a run to lead 35-24 at halftime.
Iowa’s Mike Gesell, who finished with nine points and seven assists, said he had no problem with McCaffery drawing the technicals, adding he has faith his coach confronted the referees for a reason.
“I don’t know exactly how it affected us,” Gesell said. “I trust in everything in Fran. I know he had a reason for what he did.”