By Pat Harty
For the first time since late in the 2016-17 season, the Iowa men’s basketball team has won back-to-back Big Ten games.
The Hawkeyes accomplished that rare feat by defeating Northwestern 73-63 on Wednesday at the newly renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.
And they did it without junior forward Tyler Cook, who was in uniform but withheld from the game due to a sore knee.
And they did it as previously mentioned on the road where Iowa had lost eight games in a row against Big Ten opponents since the start of last season.
The victory also came three days after Iowa’s 93-84 victory over Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa improved to 2-3 in the Big Ten and 13-3 overall, and now a season that looked to be in trouble when Iowa started 0-3 in conference play is suddenly showing signs of hope and optimism.
"It was really a tremendous team effort with our best player out," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on the Big Ten Network after the game.
The Hawkeyes will try for three Big Ten victories in a row when they face Ohio State at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
McCaffery said he didn't know until the pre-game shootaround that the 6-foot-9 Cook, who leads Iowa in scoring and rebounding, would be unavailable for the game. Cook's status is now day-to-day heading into the Ohio State game on Saturday, according to McCaffery.
Nothing on the road comes easy in the Big Ten and that was certainly the case on Wednesday as Iowa couldn’t put the Wildcats away down the stretch.
Freshman forward Joe Wieskamp made a 3-point basket to give Iowa a 47-46 lead with 13 minutes, 45 seconds left in the second half, and the Hawkeyes would never trail again.
Wieskamp’s basket was part of a 15-2 scoring run that turned a 44-37 deficit into 52-46 lead.
Junior point Jordan Bohannon only had two points in the game when he made back-to-back baskets and two free throws in the final 3 minutes to help secure the victory.
His two free throws with 36.5 seconds remaining gave Iowa a 73-63 lead and that completed the scoring.
The 6-foot-6 Wieskamp led three Iowa in players in double figures with 19 points. Sophomore center Luka Garza finished with 16 points and junior guard Isaiah Moss chipped in with 12.
"This is a big win for us, and hopefully, we can continue the momentum moving forward," Wieskamp said.
Garza also made 10-of-11 free throws and Iowa made 21-of-26 free throws overall, continuing a trend that has lasted throughout the season of getting to the free throw line at a high rate.
"They do that against everybody," said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. "I think they average about the same amount of free throws they got tonight. That's been a real strength of their's. We talked about it coming into the game. But then when you get out there and you play against the physicality it's tough. That's why they're a good team."
Iowa twice led by nine points in the first half, including when Garza made a basket to expand the lead to 28-19 with 5:28 left before halftime.
But then Northwestern answered with an 8-0 scoring run that was capped by Vic Law’s steal and breakaway dunk, which cut Iowa’s leadoff 28-27 with 3:09 left in the first half.
Bohannon made two free throws to give Iowa a 32-27 lead with 1:56 left before halftime, but the Wildcats closed the half with a 7-2 scoring run to even the score at 34-34 at the break.
Northwestern guard A.J. Taylor found an open lane to the basket and made an uncontested layup right before the halftime buzzer.
Iowa bolted to a 9-2 lead and maintained the lead until the end of the first half when Northwestern twice tied the score in the final 39 seconds, including at halftime.
Taylor then made a 3-point basket to begin the second half, and his basket triggered a quick 7-1 scoring run that caused Iowa coach Fran McCaffery to call a timeout with the Hawkeyes trailing 41-35 with 16:59 left to play.
McCaffery then lit into his players during the timeout, as he is known to do, and there were probably multiple things that had him upset, including poor defense.
Iowa often has unraveled on the road when the opponent goes on a run, but not this time as the Hawkeyes responded with the 15-2 scoring run that included 10 points from Wieskamp.
The Muscatine native made an old-fashioned three-point play that expanded Iowa’s lead to 52-46 with 12:52 remaining.
It was clear by then that whatever McCaffery said during the timeout had worked. He was asked to explain his strategy after the game.
"If you jump them late in the game you don't have time," McCaffery said. "But there was 17 minutes to go, plenty of time to recover. So you jump them and you bring them back to reality. What got us the lead in the first half? What are we not doing now? What did we talk about doing for the game?
"Just get back to doing what we need to do and that's what we did. And I couldn't be more proud of them."