On the day Iowa honored the 20th anniversary of a tragic car accident that took former player Chris Street's life in its prime, Wisconsin's poor first half prevented them from keeping pace with the energetic Hawkeyes.
By digging themselves a 20-point hole in the first half, the Badgers (13-5, 4-1 Big Ten) all but assured themselves a short stay at the top of the Big Ten standings. Despite a valiant comeback effort by George Marshall, Wisconsin fell to a second-place tie in the conference thanks to the 70-66 loss at raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.
Sparked by freshman Mike Gesell and sophomore forward Aaron White, Iowa (13-5, 2-3) nearly ran circles around Wisconsin at times. White was particularly disruptive by preying on the passing lanes. Iowa forced Wisconsin into eight first-half turnovers, which the Hawkeyes turned into seven extra points.
It was only fitting for a game played in Iowa that the Badgers could not hit the broad side of a barn in the first half.
The troubles came inside and out. There were point-blank layups by Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans that failed to even touch the rim, plus a bevy of 3-pointers pounded off the backboard. Wisconsin shot 6-for-36 (23.1%) and only 1-for-11 behind the 3-point arc during the first 20 minutes. Play-by-play man Brian Anderson summed the performance up profoundly on BTN when he said the Badgers appeared to be "shooting on a nine-foot goal."
Buoyed by the home crowd, Iowa used a 13-2 run midway through the half to gain a 20-6 advantage. The majority of those points came when Iowa pushed tempo and exploited Wisconsin's defense early in the shot clock before the Badgers could get entrenched.
But the Hawkeyes later blew the game wide open with a second, quicker 10-0 run spanning just 1:49 of game clock, prompting Bo Ryan to call a quick timeout with his team trailing, 30-10. Wrapped around Iowa's run was a five-and-a-half-minute scoreless lull from the Badgers that coincided with Jared Berggren's move to the bench with his second foul.
On the other end of the court, Iowa doubled-down on most post entries after the Wisconsin player took a dribble or two. The strategy effectively harassed Berggren, Evans and Bruesewitz, who combined for a mere six points in the first half.
All in all, Wisconsin was held to its lowest first-half total (18) of the season. The visitors cut Iowa's 20-point lead down to 14 before the break, thanks to a pair of hustle plays by Sam Dekker. But back-to-back turnovers by the freshman forward led to a late floater in the lane by Roy Devyn Marble.
The 16-point halftime deficit was simply too much for the Badgers to overcome.
White won his individual battle with Bruesewitz yet again, and often looked like the best player on the court. He finished with 17 points (including a fantastic 13-of-15 from the free throw line), seven rebounds and two steals.
After seeing improved contributions from Dekker and Traevon Jackson over the past few weeks, both youngsters struggled mightily. Jackson hit just 1-of-10 attempts from the floor. Dekker was credited with five of UW's 12 turnovers and made noticeable mistakes defensively.
Remarkably there are still positives to be gleaned from the ugly loss. First among those would be the impressive 48-point second half, which proves how lethal Wisconsin can be when its shots are falling. The Badgers shot a blistering 19-for-32 (59.4%) from the field in the half, and seemed to awaken halfway through the period.
However, UW still couldn't cut the lead to single digits until the four-minute mark when the inside-out game started clicking between Marshall and Berggren, who finished with eight points.
Marshall was an unlikely source for an offensive surge, but nevertheless, he was the brightest star on a cloudy night. After a scoreless first half, the redshirt freshman played 12 minutes and knocked down 7-of-9 shots in the second half for a game-high 20 points. Marshall was able to create open looks for himself with his energy off the bench, particularly as he poured in 11 of his team's 13 points over the final 1:07 of the game.
Wisconsin pulled to within 66-63 on a Marshall 3-pointer with under 20 seconds to play, but Iowa sank four straight free throws to complete the scoring.
The depleted UW frontline -- which may not have Frank Kaminsky back for a few more games -- was in foul trouble all night. Both Bruesewitz and Evans fouled out.
Dekker added 12 points, four rebounds and four assists for Wisconsin.