IOWA CITY, Ia. — Early in the second half, Fran McCaffery benched four of his Iowa starters, turned to them and screamed: “You’re not playing hard enough.”
And he was right. The Hawkeyes weren’t playing hard enough. At all. And for further stretches, they still didn't.
But for four incredible minutes, they finally did.
And they delivered a comeback to remember.
Jordan Bohannon’s step-back 3-pointer from the top of the key capped a furious, unbelievable rally to deliver the Hawkeyes a stunning 80-79 win against Northwestern.
Maybe the most clutch player in recent Iowa memory (maybe ever?) was the perfect guy to take the last shot. He corralled the in-bounds pass from Connor McCaffery, and dribbled once to create just enough space to launch one from about 22 feet.
"Any time we have an opportunity like that," said Bohannon, who scored all 15 of his points in the final 5 minutes, 28 seconds. "I want the ball in my hands."
The Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd of 11,888 erupted in a disbelieving thunder, as the ball dropped through the net with 0.6 seconds left.
The guy who has made a three-year career out of delivering unlikely shots with his improbable deep range had just hit the biggest one of his life.
Players later said it was initially a lob play designed with Tyler Cook as a first option. The coach's son also had backup options to find Joe Wieskamp or Isaiah Moss.
He wisely went with Captain Clutch.
"It's one of those things where if it ends the way it did, you know Jordan is going to make the shot. He's been doing it since fifth grade," Fran McCaffery said. "But you don't want to force it there, because it might not be there."
Iowa was down 15 points — FIFTEEN! — at 72-57, with 4½ minutes to go. The deficit was still 74-62 after two Anthony Gaines free throws with 2:54 left.
Fans were streaming to the exits. My column was 75 percent written, saying that this was the Hawkeyes’ first bad loss of the season.
Their most scintillating win.
And an unforgettable night.
"Last year's team," Cook said, "would have folded and handed it in."
Every bucket was essential in the comeback. Iowa made its last seven field-goal attempts in the final 2:48, starting with Bohannon’s first 3 of the game. Two more 3s, from Wieskamp and another from Bohannon, cut it to 76-71 with 1:24 left.
But even then, it seemed like it would be too little, too late.
Then Iowa did the smart thing: After playing solid defense, it capitalized on easier 2-pointers on offense, on three straight possessions — close-quarters shots from Wieskamp, Bohannon and Moss to chip it down to 78-77.
"We were down 12 at one point, and Coach said, 'There's not a 12-point shot. You've just got to keep chipping it away, little by little,'" said Wieskamp, who fought through back pain to score 21 points. "Get stops, turnovers, that lead to easy 2s and 3s.' That's how we were going to get it done."
After a 1-for-2 free throw trip by Northwestern's Vic Law with 10 seconds left and a kicked-ball violation with 3 seconds to go, Bohannon had his moment.
And did his thing.
“That’s what he does,” complimentary and exhausted Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “He’s a late-game player.”
Even though this came against a Northwestern team that entered with a 3-8 Big Ten Conference record, it may have been the most meaningful win to date for Iowa.
"It gets everybody believing in each other. You're not going to play a perfect game. Can you still win when you're a little sideways?" Fran McCaffery said. "... Every game, it's different people stepping up. That's the beautiful thing about this team."
Let the lesson from this be that playing 36 poor minutes and four great ones still isn’t the recipe for success going forward.
As far as Cook is concerned, it was a lesson learned.
"For the remainder of our schedule, we won’t be able to play like that and come out with a win," said Cook, whose early aggression paid off and kept Iowa within striking distance. He finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. "We were lucky we learned this lesson with a W."
Cook said "relief" was the prevailing emotion in the postgame locker room. Iowa now has five days off before Saturday's trip to Rutgers to enjoy this, and regroup.
"It just didn't look like it was going to happen today," Fran McCaffery conceded.
But, out of thin air, with Captain Clutch pulling the final trigger, it did.
"I knew before the ball even left my hand," Bohannon said, "that I was going to make it."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.