LINCOLN, Neb. — Jordan Bohannon has made some improbable shots to help the Iowa men’s basketball team win games this winter, often joking that he has “ice in his veins.”
But trying to shoot over someone who’s actually from Iceland? That was a new experience for Bohannon, and it didn’t work out Sunday.
Thorir Thorbjarnarson sprinted over to swat away a Bohannon 3-point attempt as time expired at Pinnacle Bank Arena, helping Nebraska complete its own miracle comeback and preserve a 93-91 overtime victory.
Iowa led by 16 points early in the second half and by nine points in the final minute. The Hawkeyes instead were saddled with a fourth consecutive loss to end the regular season, this one enough to leave players and fans alike feeling numb.
“I thought I had room. It’s nothing new. I’ve hit that shot before,” said Bohannon, who finished with 20 points, including four previous 3-pointers. “He just flew at me tough and I didn’t think I had enough time to pump-fake or one-dribble, so I just had to get it up. They played it smart. We thought we had (Glynn) Watson cleaned up on the flare screen and I had some room. They just sensed that I was getting the ball, so you’ve got to give them a lot of props.”
The final play began with 2.5 seconds remaining and Connor McCaffery inbounding in front of his bench. His crosscourt pass found Nicholas Baer, who tapped the ball back to a cutting Bohannon. Thorbjarnarson, a sophomore from Reykjavik who rarely plays, was right there to stifle the attempt the second it left Bohannon’s hand, then raced downcourt as the crowd of 12,391 roared its approval. It was the third blocked shot of Thorbjarnarson’s career.
The result ended a four-game losing streak for Nebraska (16-15, 6-14 Big Ten Conference). It extended the worst stretch of the season for Iowa (21-10, 10-10) to a fourth consecutive loss. The Hawkeyes enter Big Ten Tournament play as the 6 seed, and will face the winner of Wednesday’s Illinois-Northwestern game at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Chicago.
Iowa came up short at the end, but the victory really got away in the final 50 seconds of regulation. The Hawkeyes led 74-65 and made seven of eight free throws from that point on. That should be enough to salt away a ballgame.
Yet Nebraska somehow put up 16 points. Watson and James Palmer, both seniors playing their final game in this arena, each made a pair of 3-pointers. Amir Harris added two free throws. Finally, Palmer knifed easily through Iowa’s defense for a layup with 12 seconds left to tie the score 81-81. That’s 16 points in 38 seconds.
If it wasn’t a complete collapse by Iowa, it was at least a relapse to the way its defense has been shredded all too often in recent years.
“Those kids made some tough shots. We came up on them. We were contesting,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think if you had to do it over again, maybe you run another guy at them. Joe (Wieskamp) came up the one time and gave Palmer a running start; he was trying to pressure. You have a lead, you don’t want to foul. You don’t want to give them a four-point play. And they made a bunch in a row.”
Palmer’s basket forced overtime after Connor McCaffery missed the second of his two free throws with 19 seconds left. That was enough of an opening.
Luka Garza led Iowa with 25 points. But the sophomore center could only shake his head and lament the late defensive breakdowns afterward. Nebraska got 27 points from Palmer, and 23 apiece from Watson and Isaiah Roby. Roby fouled out with 50 seconds remaining. That should have made the Hawkeye scouting report much simpler.
“Once Roby fouled out, we knew they had no inside presence. And they were just going to keep five out, let Palmer drive, let Watson pull up for 3,” Garza said. “There was two guys who were going to shoot every time down and next time we’re in a position with a team like that, we’ve got to make sure those guys are not getting shots up, make them swing it and force another guy to make a 3.”
Wieskamp nailed a 3-pointer to give Iowa its final lead, 89-87, with 2:26 left. A pair of Palmer free throws tied the score 18 seconds later. Watson made a jump shot to put Nebraska back in front. Nicholas Baer drove for his only two points of the game to tie it 91-91 with 1:15 left.
A Harris layup with 10 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner. Iowa put the ball in McCaffery’s hands on its final possession, and he appeared to try to be feeding Garza in the post from the left elbow. His pass was batted back at him and out of bounds off of Nebraska to set up the final sequence.
“They just took it from us,” Bohannon said.
He’s done that to other teams plenty of times. But it didn’t make this loss any easier to accept.