EVANSTON, Ill. — The Iowa basketball team has had enough trouble winning Big Ten road games over the past two seasons.
With leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Cook out of the lineup Wednesday at Northwestern, it figured to be even more difficult to win one away from home.
But Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza weren’t about to let this one slip away.
Wieskamp scored 19 points and Garza added 16 as the Hawkeyes came from behind to register an improbable 73-63 victory over Northwestern that snapped an extended string of road futility for Iowa.
"We just had to be aggressive tonight," said Garza, who played 26 minutes in his second game back from a sprained ankle. "It was that next man up mentality we have ... To go out and win a game without our best player, without our leader, is big for our team, big for our confidence going forward."
The Hawkeyes (13-3, 2-3) had lost 10 of their previous 11 Big Ten away games and had trailed by 17 or more points in each of those contests.
But they never trailed by more than seven Wednesday. That happened early in the second half and Wieskamp almost single-handedly erased that margin within minutes.
Bettendorf’s Nicholas Baer, who contributed nine points and 10 rebounds in the victory, actually started the comeback by getting a 3-point play off a putback, and Wieskamp then scored 10 of the Hawkeyes’ next 12 points.
"I knew there were a lot of points that needed to be picked up," Wieskamp said, referring to the absence of Cook. "I just tried to help."
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery described the play of the freshman from Muscatine as "spectacular both as a scorer, as a rebounder and as a defender."
Northwestern star Vic Law also committed his third and fourth fouls of the game during that 15-2 binge that gave Iowa a 52-46 lead with 12 minutes, 52 seconds remaining.
The Iowa lead wavered between five and eight points over the next 11 minutes as several more Northwestern players — Dererk Pardon, Barret Benson and Ryan Taylor — all got into foul trouble.
Jordan Bohannon, who had only two free throws before the final minutes, took it into his own hands to close things out. He twice maneuvered inside to score, then finished off the Wildcats (10-6, 1-4) with two free throws with 36.5 seconds remaining.
The Hawkeyes were forced to play without Cook, who had collected 15 or more points and five or more rebounds in nine consecutive games, but who sat out the game with a sore knee.
McCaffery said the injury was “ongoing.’’ Cook had a large ice pack on his right knee following a game at Purdue last week, but he scored 16 points in a victory over Nebraska on Sunday.
"We didn’t know (he couldn’t play) until shootaround," McCaffery said. "Yesterday we thought he was going to be able to play, but then today he just didn’t feel right."
He described the status of the 6-foot-9 junior as "day to day."
Even without him, the Hawkeyes jumped to an early 9-2 lead and after Northwestern tied it, they went on a 9-0 scoring run by coaxing the Wildcats into five straight missed shots, then attacking quickly at the other end before the defense could get set.
The Wildcats put together a string of eight straight points of their own, capped by a breakaway dunk by Law following a steal.
The Hawkeyes briefly pushed the lead back to five, but the Wildcats finished the half strong. Ryan Taylor scored on a baseline drive as the clocked expired to tie the score at 34-34 going to intermission.
As in road losses to Michigan State and Purdue, the Hawkeyes got off to a terrible start in the second half, however. Taylor hit a 3 to kick off a Northwestern run that gave the Wildcats a 44-37 lead.
That’s where Wieskamp decided to take over.
The Hawkeyes again thrived at the free throw line, making 21 of 26 shots there. Garza was 10 for 11.
"They did a really good job of attacking the paint and getting our guys in foul trouble, which affected the game," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said.
He said the fact that Cook did not play had little impact on the approach of his own players.
"They just played better than we did," he said of the Hawkeyes.
Law and reserve Anthony Gaines scored 13 points apiece to lead Northwestern but the Wildcats shot just 38.6 percent from the field in the game. Pardon eventually fouled out with only six points.