PISCATAWAY, N.J. — They call it “the tap play,” a rather dull name for a sensational sequence of events that defied easy description here Saturday.
The Iowa basketball team trailed Rutgers by a point with 3.3 seconds left and a sellout crowd at the RAC roaring. Connor McCaffery inbounded the ball under his own basket, lofting a baseball-style pass that Nicholas Baer, standing near the free-throw line, could only deflect into the left corner.
The deflection went right in front of the Hawkeyes’ bench. That was right where Joe Wieskamp happened to be standing. The freshman bent over to get the ball, his back to the basket, turned and launched a shot that somehow “tapped” the backboard and then fell through.
No. 17 Iowa 71, Rutgers 69. Hawkeye fans had goosebumps too numerous to count.
“I wound up being in the right place at the right time,” the laconic Wieskamp said afterward. “Got it and knew I had to get it up quick. And was able to make it.”
No, Wieskamp did not intend to bank the shot, which entered and exited the rim cleanly with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Nor was he in the mood to gush about it afterward. It’s not what he does.
“I was pretty pleased,” Wieskamp said of the most important shot of his young career. “It was a tough week for me, just dealing with back pain. So to be able to play and hit that shot is pretty special.”
Wieskamp, who has been battling back soreness for two games, finished with nine points. Iowa (20-5, 9-5 Big Ten Conference) was led by Jordan Bohannon’s 18 points. It was Bohannon who authored the previous Hawkeye miracle, a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left Sunday that derailed Northwestern’s upset hopes.
What is with this team?
Bohannon smiled when asked that question. He was double-teamed on Iowa’s final possession, which meant no Rutgers defender was available to try to bother McCaffery’s pass. But Bohannon got a good look at the play.
“I saw it hit the side of the backboard, and I said, ‘Oh crap. This is going to go in,’” Bohannon said. “We kind of have a lot of clutch players on this team. I knew if one of us got a shot off, it had a good chance of going in.”
Iowa has won four consecutive games. The last two were the most dramatic back-to-back finishes head coach Fran McCaffery can ever recall.
Rutgers (12-13, 5-10) had taken the lead on an improbable shot of its own. Geo Baker got a 3-pointer to fall from the top of the key after the basketball hit the rim, the backboard, and then the rim again before dropping through. That sequence felt like fate.
Fran McCaffery calmly called his players together and walked them through “the tap play” one more time. He put his four best long-distance shooters on the court — Baer, Bohannon, Wieskamp and Isaiah Moss.
“It never goes to perfection,” McCaffery said of last-ditch plays like the ones his team has pulled off in consecutive games. “There are multiple options in a situation like that, and you hope that one of them works. Same thing happened last time. It’s terrific for our team, hurts if you’re the other team.
“But if you have smart kids with character and you give them some framework, they’ll execute, and at least you have a chance.”
The once-in-a-lifetime chance came through for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. Just like it did last Sunday.
Iowa’s bench erupted in celebration, even coaxing a big smile from Wieskamp himself. The Hawkeyes knew they were witnessing something impossible to decipher. Even Moss said long after the game that he had yet to process how the victory was obtained.
“I saw it heading towards the glass. I thought it was no good,” Iowa junior forward Tyler Cook said of his view from the sideline. “So then when it went in, it’s like all hell broke loose. I
"t’s nice to be lucky sometimes.”
Wieskamp said the only other game-winner he could compare Saturday’s to was one he made as a sophomore at Muscatine High School. That shot came with about 20 seconds left, but knocked off top-seeded Pleasant Valley. He didn’t really want to delve into the significance of it all.
“This is a big win. That was a big shot,” Wieskamp said. “But we’ve still got six Big Ten games left in the season. Plus, we want to be playing deep into the postseason.”
In other words: Tap the brakes, Hawkeye fans.
Iowa next hosts No. 25 Maryland at 7 p.m. Tuesday.