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Iowa guard Joe Toussaint couldn't sleep after he heard about Kobe Bryant''s death. Listen to what the former NBA star meant to the Hawkeye freshman: Hawk Central

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Joe Toussaint is a true freshman point guard learning the ropes in the rugged Big Ten Conference.

So he didn’t want to take too much credit for rallying No. 18 Iowa to a 68-62 win over Wisconsin on Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I just played within the team,” Toussaint demurred.

Hawkeye shooting guard CJ Fredrick was more to the point.

“He changed the whole complexion of the game,” Fredrick said when asked about Toussaint.

Both quotes were accurate.

The Hawkeyes sputtered offensively for much of the game while the Badgers started gaining confidence and quieting the crowd announced at 12,566. Toussaint, who was banished to the bench early in the second half after missing badly on a jumpshot, silently watched it all unfold. Wisconsin built a 57-45 lead with seven minutes, 13 seconds remaining.

Toussaint re-entered the game with a plan. And the rookie minced no words when he told his older teammates what it was.

“I just felt like we were too soft on them on defense, especially during the press. It felt like we were too tentative,” Toussaint said. “That was my job just to tell everybody, ‘Hey, we’ve got to pick it up. Time’s running out.’ And I just tried to set the tone with that steal I got.”

The steal was on the lone turnover that Wisconsin junior guard D’Mitrik Trice committed. Toussaint took the basketball right at Badgers guard Brad Davison. His layup was good. Davison was called for a foul. That three-point play was the spark the Hawkeyes had been looking for all game, which ended on a 23-5 Iowa run and became the most improbable victory of the season.

Iowa won its fifth consecutive game to run its record to 15-5 and 6-3 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin, which had defeated the Hawkeyes in eight of the past 10 meetings, fell to 12-9, 5-5.

And the Badgers fell hard, thanks to Toussaint.

He followed his second and-one of the game with a defensive rebound that turned in to a pair of Joe Wieskamp free throws. Then he collected another defensive board and found Fredrick for a 3-pointer.

Toussaint’s biggest play came with the Hawkeyes trailing 59-57 and coming out of a timeout. The play was designed, naturally, to go to Iowa star center Luka Garza, who was drawing double- and triple-teams all night but still managed 21 points and 18 rebounds. This time, though, Toussaint noticed Trice start cheating toward Garza and took off into the lane.

Toussaint came to a jump-stop, pivoted and got Trice to jump. Toussaint’s short jump shot went through the net while he bounced off Trice’s chest, drawing another foul. He completed his third three-point play of the game.

Iowa never again trailed.

When Toussaint departed the game just three minutes into the second half, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery made sure to seat him right next to assistant coach Billy Taylor. Taylor leaned over to say something.

“’Don’t get down on yourself. You’re fine,’” Taylor told Toussaint. “’We’re all missing shots. We’re going to make shots, so don’t worry about it. Stay confident.’”

Toussaint said confidence, and a little extra muscle, are the biggest changes in his play from the beginning of the season until now. He scored 14 points in Iowa’s last win, over Rutgers on Wednesday. He had 11 points, four assists and those two defensive rebounds in 25 minutes Monday. He led Iowa with a plus-16 rating against Wisconsin.

“I don’t think enough is said about his defensive effort (Monday),” Garza declared afterward. “I think he was all over the place. And he just presents a physical, aggressive point guard who can really get on the ball, and something we haven’t really been able to have in the past.”

Toussaint, the shortest player on the court at 6-foot, had an outsized impact on this Hawkeye win.

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Iowa guard CJ Fredrick on the defense and the play of Joe Toussaint, which allowed the Hawkeyes to rally past Wisconsin. Listen: Hawk Central

The Iowa press turns the tide

Toussaint was correct about the Hawkeye press. McCaffery used it off and on early in the game, but it didn’t hinder the Badgers much. Wisconsin committed only four turnovers in the first 30 minutes of play.

The Badgers coughed it up five times after that, and scored only 12 points in the final 10:35 while the Hawkeyes rallied. Wisconsin’s Davison became so rattled after Iowa cut the deficit to 57-54 that he heaved a simple crosscourt pass into the third row.

“Everyone bought in to just getting stops. I think you saw the last eight minutes a lot of grit, a lot of toughness, a lot of getting after it on the defensive end. And we got them to miss shots. We got rebounds,” Fredrick said after scoring 17 points.

“(The press) just kind of slowed their whole offense down. Because they’re real slow. They run that ‘swing’ offense. It made them start their offense with about 20, 22 seconds, so we didn’t have to guard as much action.”

Some testy play late works to Iowa's advantage

Joe Wieskamp made a layup to give Iowa a 62-59 lead with 34 seconds left. But what happened away from the basketball became more noteworthy. During the ensuing timeout, officials looked at the replay and saw Davison wrap his arms around Iowa guard Connor McCaffery’s midsection in a manner that is probably best not described in a family newspaper.

Davison was called for a flagrant foul, sending McCaffery to the free-throw line and giving the Hawkeyes possession afterward. McCaffery made one free throw to make it a two-possession game. Garza was fouled on the next play and also made a single foul shot for a 64-59 lead with 30 seconds left.

Garza then blocked a shot by Wisconsin’s Aleem Ford. McCaffery got the rebound and was fouled by Davison again. This time, he made both free throws and the Hawkeyes were in command.

In the final 2.4 seconds, things got chippy again. Ford made a layup in a play that wound up with Garza on his back in the lane. Wisconsin’s Brevin Pritzl appeared to say something to Garza, who hesitated for a second and then got up as if to charge after Pritzl into the Badger huddle.Garza was called for the second technical foul of his Iowa career (he also got one at Penn State last season).

He was contrite afterward.

“Some things were said that weren’t really nice, so I kind of lost my composure,” Garza said. “So I apologized to my team and to Wisconsin.”

Hawkeyes honor Kobe Bryant

Connor McCaffery came up with the idea for the Hawkeyes to wear Kobe Bryant sneakers as a way to pay respects to former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday at age 41.

Iowa players took the news hard when they learned about it after Sunday’s practice. Toussaint was so upset that he couldn’t sleep, returning to the gym late in the evening to spend about 90 minutes shooting with his roommate, Patrick McCaffery.

“His drive for the game, his love for the game, it just meant a lot to him,” Toussaint said of Bryant. “He just inspired a lot of people, and I’m one of those people.”

Fran McCaffery is a native of Philadelphia, where Bryant grew up. He recalled recruiting Bryant as an assistant coach at Notre Dame, watching a hotly contested state tournament game at the famed Palestra. Bryant never played in college, going straight to the NBA at age 17.

“I watched Kobe grow up. I watched him in high school,” McCaffery said. “But these guys, it really hit home for them. And when they had the idea to wear the Kobe’s, I said, ‘I’m on board. I’m going to wear Kobe’s, as well.’”

Garza started the game wearing his Bryant sneakers, with the words “Mamba Mentality” etched on the side. But at halftime, he went back to his normal shoes, which felt more comfortable.

Garza summed up the feelings of basketball fans everywhere: “Anybody who touches a basketball for the rest of mankind will know who Kobe Bryant was.”

Iowa next plays at Maryland on Thursday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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