MADISON -- Sam Dekker would probably rather forget the first 38 minutes at the Kohl Center Sunday evening.
The sophomore forward missed his first nine shots from the field and had just three free throws in seven attempts as a scoring output. Wisconsin trailed Iowa most of the game, and when the Badgers needed a bucket from their leading scorer, he hadn't been able to get one.
But with just over two minutes remaining and the Badgers leading by one, Dekker (eight points, six rebounds) corralled an offensive rebound and kicked it to redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser, who gave it right back to the Sheboygan, Wis., native on the right wing. He buried a three to put UW up four.
Wisconsin never surrendered the lead.
In front of a roiling Kohl Center crowd, the No. 22 Hawkeyes (12-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) looked like they might run the No. 4 Badgers (15-0, 2-0) out of the building early, but Wisconsin mounted a second-half comeback -- sparked improbably by an outburst from Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery that led to his ejection -- and salted the game away at the free throw line late to secure a 75-71 win.
"We haven't really been in that type of situation yet this year so it was great to see us react the way we did," redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser (14 points, 3-of-5 overall, 2-3 three-point) said. "You really got to see the grit, the toughness, the composure that we have as a team."
The Badgers got a huge second half from senior guard Ben Brust, who scored all of his team-high 19 points after the break. He went 5-of-6 from the floor and hit all three of his three-point attempts in the second half in addition to making all six of his free throws. Wisconsin hit 19 of its final 22 free throws -- including 6-of-7 in the final 62 seconds -- after starting the game 6-of-13 from the stripe.
Four of those came on one trip to the line and moved the Badgers from two points down to two points up at the 11:52 mark in the second half. It was the result of a bizarre sequence in which McCaffery picked up one technical foul after exchanging words with a referee during a stop in play and then picked up another when he erupted and made contact with a different official. The head coach, in his fourth year at Iowa, was restrained by assistants before the referees sorted things out.
"I can't address that," McCaffery said of the circumstances around his ejection. "As much as I would like to, I can't. What I feel bad about is picking up the second one. The first one, I think it's safe to say I kind of went after that one. The second one, I'm not so sure."
McCaffery said he didn't think the ejection cost his team the game. After Brust made the four technical foul free throws, freshman forward Nigel Hayes (eight points, 1-of-4 overall, 4-of-8 free throws) made one of two free throws for an over-the-back foul on Hawkeyes junior center Gabriel Olaseni.
Those five free points provided the middle of a 12-2 Wisconsin run over 2:58 that took the Badgers from trailing by four points to leading 49-43 when Gasser hit a three at the 10:18 mark.
Still, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan agreed with McCaffery's sentiment.
"I thought we were making a push before [the ejection], and when things like that happen in a game you go to the line and make your free throws and keep playing," Ryan said. "It isn't about anything that we do as coaches. It's still all about the players and the possessions."
UW missed 13 of its first 14 shots on the night as Iowa built an early double-digit lead. Wisconsin went 10:47 to start the game without getting a field goal from anybody but junior center Frank Kaminsky. All nine of his points came in the first 11 minutes and kept the Badgers within striking distance. UW used an 8-0 run to close Iowa's lead to 21-20 at the 8:02 mark, but the Hawkeyes scored 14 of the half's final 18 points to match their largest lead at the break.
"In some ways, the first 15 minutes reminded me of the Florida game," Dekker said. "We were kind of stagnant, didn't really know what looks to take. They really took us away from what we like to do offensively."
Brust started his scoring barrage with a three on UW's first possession of the second half. As a team, the Badgers shot 52.2 percent from the floor (12-of-23) in the second half and 66.6 percent (6-of-9) from three-point range in the second half after connecting on just 8-of-30 and 4-of-13, respectively, in the first half.
Wisconsin tightened defensively, as well, particularly on the glass. Iowa out-rebounded UW 42-35 overall, but got only five of its 16 offensive rebounds in the second half. The Hawkeyes had an 18-1 advantage in second-chance points at halftime, but UW squeaked out a 7-to-5 edge in the second half.
"I thought we did a better job [in the second half]," Ryan said. "It still wasn't up to our standards. There were some crazy bounces and that accounted for some of it, but still too many that we gave up."
UW led by as many as eight points in the second half, but Iowa senior guard Roy Devyn Marble, who led all scorers with 27 points, brought the Hawkeyes within one with a three with 3:00 remaining. At that moment, Dekker was 0-of-9 from the floor, but he made his mark on Wisconsin's next possession.
"I knew I hadn't hit a shot yet. I didn't know how many I'd missed," he said. "Usually I don't show much emotion after a three, but I yelled pretty loud in the corner there because there was a lot of frustration letting out of me."
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