The final seconds ticked off the Kohl Center clock, and Gatens, who has seen so many frustrating games in his career with the Iowa basketball team, bent over and slapped the basketball four times in celebration.
The Hawkeyes had just pulled off the biggest upset of the young Big Ten season, stunning 11th-ranked Wisconsin 72-65 Saturday afternoon.
“I was glad to get it done,” said Gatens, whose two free throws with nine seconds left clinched the victory. “It seemed like those seconds wouldn’t tick off.
“It was a pretty big win.”
“It shows we’re getting there,” said freshman forward Aaron White, who scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. “We needed to get this win.”
Iowa (9-6 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) won at the Kohl Center for the first time since 2000, snapping a nine-game losing streak in a place where few teams have won. It was the Hawkeyes’ first road win over a ranked opponent since a victory over No. 21 Indiana in 2006.
And it touched off a wild post-game celebration that echoed through the quiet arena.
“Any time you win on the road in this league, there’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “The players certainly knew this was an accomplishment.”
Wisconsin came into the game with a 160-12 home record in Bo Ryan’s 11 seasons as head coach. The Badgers had won 12 consecutive Big Ten home openers and had beaten Iowa 13 of the last 15 times.
But the Hawkeyes never wavered, even after a long scoreless stretch at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half.
“We did this on our own energy,” said sophomore forward Melsahn Basabe. “It’s easy to win games in your own home, but here we had to create our own energy, and we did.”
“Lot of fun,” said Gatens, who had just six points but a career-high 12 rebounds. “Lot of emotion. Not many teams come in here and get a ‘W.'”
It was an impressive effort against a smothering Wisconsin defense. The Badgers came in leading the nation in scoring defense at 44 points per game, but the Hawkeyes topped that less than eight minutes into the second half.
Iowa almost let a 12-point lead with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left get away, mostly because of a costly technical foul by Basabe that gave the Badgers six points in the span of 15 seconds.
But as the Badgers (12-3, 1-1) kept charging, Iowa kept its poise, hitting big shots in the final 2 Â½ minutes.
“We just couldn’t get any stops at the end,” said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor, who led the Badgers with 17 points.
Devyn Marble dropped in a shot over Wisconsin center Jared Berggren with 2:36 to play.
Bryce Cartwright scored off an assist from Marble with 1:55 to go.
Then, with the Hawkeyes clinging to a 68-65 lead after a turnover led to a Ben Brust layup, Marble hit a floater from 10 feet with 19 seconds to play.
“That was a tough shot,” Taylor said. “And he made it.”
“I knew I couldn’t drive all the way to the basket, because they’re so good at taking charges,” Marble said. “I have confidence in taking that floater.”
McCaffery marveled at Marble’s ability to hit those shots.
“He’s just that way,” McCaffery said. “He never rattles.”
The Badgers, scrambling to stay in the game, couldn’t get any closer. Berggren missed a wild 3-pointer with 10 seconds to go, and Taylor missed one with five seconds left.
The rebound after Taylor’s miss was tapped out to Gatens. The Kohl Center got quiet, except for the cheers from behind the Iowa bench.
“They made more plays than we did,” Taylor said. “Hats off to them.”
Wisconsin shot just 34.8 percent from the field (24-of-69), but was just 3-of-28 in 3-point shots.
“It was just one of those games,” Berggren said. “You can’t explain it.”
The Hawkeyes, who let Wednesday’s game at home against Purdue get away in a 79-76 loss, held the lead for most of the first half before Wisconsin forged a 31-31 halftime tie.
It then became a desperate time for the Hawkeyes, who didn’t score on 11 consecutive possessions in a stretch from the final 2 Â½ minutes of the first half to the first 3:48 of the second half. At that point, Wisconsin led 38-31 and was in control.
Then White took over. His 3-pointer with 16:12 to play, his first field goal of the game, started a stretch where he scored nine of Iowa’s 11 points.
“I played soft in the first half, and I can’t play that way,” White said. “So I just came out and tried to give my team some energy.”
“He’s just a really good basketball player,” McCaffery said.
Then Cartwright took over. The senior point guard, who finished with a season-high 17 points, scored 10 in the second half as the Hawkeyes slowly pulled away.
Cartwright, who was plagued with injuries for most of the early part of the season, was at his best in this game, and he knew it.
“I’m just feeling better,” he said.
McCaffery knew it as well.
“Tonight we told him to push the basketball as much as he could, and he did,” McCaffery said.
With the Hawkeyes leading 64-52 and in control, Basabe made a huge mistake. He fouled Josh Gasser going to the basket, and the two had a staredown under the basket. Basabe made contact with his forearm, and was called for a technical foul.
“That was my fault,” Basabe said. “It wasn’t anything malicious. That’s not the kind of player I am. But I knew I made a mistake. I won’t do that again.”
Gasser hit four free throws, then scored on a layup 15 seconds later, and the lead was down to six.
“That was a strange deal,” Gatens said. “But we responded.”
It was one win that the Hawkeyes needed, and they savored the moment.
“We came in here and believed in what we could do,” Gatens said. “We had a lot of guys step up.
“Yeah, it’s big.”
IOWA (9-6, 1-1)
Melsahn Basabe 6-11 2-5 14, Zach McCabe 3-5 0-0 6, Devyn Marble 3-6 1-3 7, Matt Gatens 2-9 2-2 6, Eric May 1-4 0-0 2, Gabe Olaseni 0-1 0-0 0, Josh Oglesby 1-4 0-0 2, Andrew Brommer 0-0 0-0 0, Bryce Cartwright 7-12 3-3 17, Aaron White 6-7 4-4 18. Totals: 29-59 12-17 72.
WISCONSIN (12-3, 1-1)
Ryan Evans 2-3 1-2 5, Mike Bruesewitz 1-7 2-2 4, Jared Berggren 6-17 0-0 12, Jordan Taylor 7-19 1-1 17, Josh Gasser 2-6 7-7 11, Ben Brust 4-13 2-2 11, Rob Wilson 2-3 1-2 5, Frank Kaminsky 0-1 0-1 0. Totals: 24-69 14-17 65.
Halftime: Tied at 31. Total fouls: Iowa 17, Wisconsin 18. Fouled out: Evans. Technicals: Basabe. 3-point goals: Iowa 2-6 (White 2-2, Gatens 0-1, Oglesby 0-1, McCabe 0-2), Wisconsin 3-28 (Taylor 2-7, Brust 1-9, Wilson 0-1, Kaminsky 0-1, Bruesewitz 0-2, Gasser 0-3). Rebounds: Iowa 41 (Gatens 12), Wisconsin 39 (Gasser 8). Assists: Iowa 10 (Cartwright 5), Wisconsin 9 (Taylor 4). Blocked shots: Iowa 4 (Gatens 2), Wisconsin 5 (Berggren, Kaminsky 2). Turnovers: Iowa 10, Wisconsin 8.