The Big Ten had two quality games on the slate for Wednesday night, and they didn't disappoint. In the lesser of the two, Michigan got a much needed home win against Northwestern, moving the Wolverines close to being completely off the bubble.
The second game featured two teams in the top half of the conference in Wisconsin and Iowa. Let's take a look at the action.
Game of the Night: Wisconsin Badgers 67, Iowa Hawkeyes 59
Possibly the last team a struggling Iowa squad wanted to face right now was the streaking Wisconsin Badgers. Greg Gard's team showed no fear in a loud environment in Iowa City as they knocked off the Hawkeyes 67-59. This marked the 9th win in the last 10 conference games for Wisconsin and the 3rd loss in 4 games for Iowa.
In one of the more evenly played first halves you will see, Wisconsin ended up with a 35-34 lead after 20 minutes. The half featured 8 lead changes and 5 ties. The teams were so evenly matched that no team led by more than 3 points in the final 11 minutes of the half.
Peter Jok absolutely carried the Hawkeyes through the opening 20 minutes as he scored half the of the team's 34 points including three makes from deep.
It looked like Iowa would be the first team to open up a little bit of a lead, as they stretched their advantage to 6 a few times in the second half. With under 10 minutes to go, Fran McCaffery's team enjoyed a 51-45 lead. Two of the Badgers' upperclassmen, however, made sure Iowa wouldn't run away.
Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig connected on huge back to back threes to tie the game back up. Then, Khalil Iverson virtually stole the momentum for the remainder of the game on one play. The 6' 5'' freshman caught a pass on the baseline, took one step toward the basket and proceeded to double clutch under Jarrod Uthoff in windmill fashion and throw down an absolutely nasty two handed jam. This play not only game Wisconsin their first lead of the second half, but propelled a Badgers team searching for a spark on offense.
Wisconsin would end up holding the Hawkeyes to just 3 points in the final 6 minutes of action and pull away to a 67-59 lead. The Badgers played absolutely swarming defense down the stretch holding Iowa to make just 2 of their final 16 attempts from the floor.
The Badgers had well balanced scoring, with just Koenig (15) and Hayes (10) in double figures. This included 23 big points off the bench including 9 each from Iverson and Jordan Hill. The Badgers will have a big Sunday when they host Michigan.
Iowa, meanwhile, got just 4 points contributed from their bench. Adam Woodburry had a monster game on the glass for the Hawkeyes with 18 rebounds (10 offensive), but they just could not score with the poor shooting nights from leading scorer Jarrod Uthoff (3-12) and point guard Mike Gesell (2-9). Iowa will now travel to Columbus for a battle with a hungry bubble team in Ohio State.
In a game in which Northwestern led for the first 30 minutes, Michigan ended up being the team to pull away at the end as the Wolverines got an important win for a team on the bubble. Sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was huge for John Beilein as he led Michigan with 19 points.
It wasn't always looking good for the Wolverines, though, as Northwestern came out of the gates with a 10-0 run and controlled the first half. Much of this was thanks to a huge first 20 minutes from Alex Olah. The senior center dropped 14 points in the opening frame and carried his team to a 29-28 halftime lead.
The second half started a lot like the first as Northwestern opened on an 8-0 run and stretched their lead back to 9. Abdur-Rahkman had the answer, however, scoring back to back buckets to get the Wolverines back in the game.
With the teams trading blows in the second half, Northwestern sat on top 54-52 with just over 5 minutes left. It was all Michigan from here. The Wolverines would go on a 10-2 run to take a 6 point lead, their largest of the night.
Derrick Walton Jr. iced the game late for Michigan as he scored 8 points in the final 3:39. This included a 6-6 mark from the line as the 80% free throw shooter sealed the win for John Beilein.
Besides great guard play from Walton Jr. and Abdur-Rahkman, the Wolverines also out-rebounded Northwestern by 9 and knocked down 20-25 free throws as well. Michigan will travel to Wisconsin for a huge game Sunday in Madison. A win would all but clinch a tournament bid for John Beilein's squad.
20 turnovers plagued the Wildcats, who also shot just 5-9 from the stripe. Olah, Tre Demps, and Aaron Falzon combined for 47 of the 63 Wildcat points. Northwestern will host Rutgers Saturday.