IOWA CITY — The Iowa basketball team experienced something new Tuesday night. Well, more than one thing, really.
In their previous six games, the Hawkeyes had trailed at halftime every single time and in five of those games they trailed by more than 10 points.
On Tuesday, they never trailed. Not even once. They played with more energy, emotion and cohesion at both ends of the court than in any of their previous Big Ten games and romped to an 85-67 victory over Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
That was the other new thing they experienced: Victory. It is only their second win in nine Big Ten games — the first one at home — and improved their overall mark to 11-11.
“It felt great,’’ said sophomore forward Tyler Cook, who shared scoring honors with 17 points despite sitting out the last 9 ½ minutes with a minor ankle sprain. “We just wanted to be focused and communicate more on the defensive end, be locked in and play with more emotion ...
“It was so much better than it has been the past few games. I just think we had fun with the game tonight.’’
Not only was the defense better, but the Hawkeyes also shot 51.7 percent from the field, won the rebounding battle and had fewer turnovers (11) than in most games this season.
Seemingly everything clicked into place and almost everyone had a good game.
Freshman Luka Garza more than matched Wisconsin All-American and former Rockridge star Ethan Happ, finishing with 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Jordan Bohannon also had a double-double with 13 points and 11 assists. Isaiah Moss scored 15 points, including five very important points just before halftime. Cordell Pemsl contributed 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Happ finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but he was much less effective when the 6-foot-11 Garza was in the game.
“I thought Luka was great,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Happ is an All-American and he’s a freshman, but I think he really studied what Happ does this week and was up the challenge.’’
Garza admitted he spent a lot of time preparing for one of the best post players in the country.
“I watched a lot of film individually on him as well as with the coaches and we were just locked into what he wanted to do,’’ Garza said. “He’s a great player and he’s relentless … It’s a tough cover and I just needed to match his intensity.’’
The Hawkeyes, who trailed by 31 points at halftime Saturday against Purdue, started much better Tuesday, opening an early 9-0 lead, but it wasn’t because they were lighting things up offensively.
They coaxed the Badgers (10-11, 3-5 Big Ten) into missing their first nine shots, three of them by Happ.
“We’ve been going in at halftime always down and trying to work ourselves back into the game so that was big,’’ Garza said.
“I think they were really assertive in the post to begin with and that kind of freed some things up for them,’’ Happ added. “Credit to Iowa because they are a good team and they did a lot of things well but we also beat ourselves.’’
The Hawkeyes’ lead got as high as 12 points before Khalil Iverson, who scored 17 points, led a charge to chop it down to four (32-28) with a minutes, 20 seconds left in the half.
But Moss sank a 3-pointer from the right corner, then added a 10-foot running jumper just before the halftime horn to make it 37-28. The 3 hit the rim, bounced in the air, then somehow nestled its way into the net.
“That was huge for us,’’ Moss admitted. “I don’t know how it went in, but it was huge.’’
The Hawkeyes got the ball inside to Cook for dunks on their first two possessions of the second half and were on their way. They built the lead as high as 22 at one point.
Iowa’s previous six conference opponents all shot better than 48 percent from the field against them, But Wisconsin shot just 40 percent. After giving up 20 3-point field goals in Saturday’s lopsided loss to Purdue, they permitted the Badgers to make just 4 of 18 shots from behind the arc.
“That speaks to being connected,’’ McCCaffery said. “If you’re going to run a second person at Happ, then when he passes it out you need to rotate.’’
McCaffery and his players admitted the win should give his team some confidence as it embarks on the second half of the league schedule.
“To finally play a full 40 minutes of a game is something we can use as a foundation,’’ Bohannon said. “Obviously, we’re not going to be satisfied to be 2-7 in the league but I think we have a string of games where we can get back in contention.’’