Leistikow: Jordan Bohannon, Hawkeyes learn important lesson entering NCAA tourney
CHICAGO — Just as he was about to head to the Iowa locker room prior to the 100th game of his college career, Jordan Bohannon had one more shot to put up.
Standing at half court of the United Center, Bohannon collected a basketball, spun around and lofted a high, arching shot toward one of the baskets. It slammed the glass backboard and dropped through the net. He jogged to the tunnel with a big smile, several of his teammates slapping his back with impressed excitement.
It seemed like it was about to be a good Friday night.
Instead, it became a humbling one.
For just the fourth game in his career, Bohannon was held without a point. He attempted only two shots in Friday’s 74-53 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Conference tournament quarterfinals. He didn’t get to the foul line, either, despite playing 27 minutes in his first game since being named third-team all-Big Ten.
“I never really got in the flow. Didn’t really get a lot of shots off,” Bohannon said. “I didn’t work hard enough to get the ball. Probably should have been more aggressive.”
Bohannon’s night serves as a microcosm of this Hawkeye team that’s about to get its first NCAA Tournament invitation in three years.
There’s an extra urgency that’s required in the postseason. Michigan certainly had it Friday. Iowa did not. That’s something Bohannon is determined to take into next week’s NCAA opener.
“I’ve got to be better,” he said. “We’ve got to be better as a team. … It’s definitely a different notch of intensity that once you get here, you kind of realize how big of a stage this is.”
There could be no better opponent to deliver a lesson of the intensity required at tournament time than Michigan. The Wolverines have won the past two Big Ten Tournaments, and they stayed hot last year all the way to the NCAA title game.
The overwhelming sentiment coming from Hawkeye players after being blown out Friday was positive — Bohannon included — and resolute. Coach Fran McCaffery told them he was proud that they won 22 games out of 33, a year after going 14-19 — a full eight-game turnaround.
Forward Tyler Cook said he had excitement about seeing the word “Iowa” on an NCAA Tournament bracket when it's revealed early Sunday evening.
“We’re just staying together. That’s something that’s really important,” said senior Nicholas Baer, who, like Bohannon, was held without a point against the Wolverines. “Yes, we’re disappointed with this performance right now. At the same time, we’re really proud of the season we had."
To extend the season, though, the Hawkeyes have to be better. A lot better. And that starts with Bohannon, who committed two turnovers before the first TV timeout that turned into five Michigan points. It wasn't his night.
Bohannon entered Friday’s game just two 3-pointers shy of tying Jeff Horner’s career school record of 262. In one of the few post-game smiles that was solicited, I joked with Bohannon that he was just waiting for the NCAA Tournament to break the record.
And although that’s not true, here’s a stat for you: The last time Bohannon was shut out in a Big Ten game (last year at Minnesota), he scored 25 points the next time he took the floor.
“You just have to take it with a grain of salt,” Bohannon said. “Sometimes, adversity is going to hit you, and you’ve got to try to bounce back from it.”
Iowa's success usually hinges on what Bohannon does. Without his late-game heroics against Indiana (twice), Penn State and Northwestern, the Hawkeyes would've probably been 6-14 in the Big Ten, not 10-10.
Now, Bohannon needs to be more aggressive. He promised he would be. He said the goal is to get to the weekend — meaning a first-round win in the NCAAs, probably in a matchup of 8-9 seeds — and then see what can happen from there.
“NCAA Tournament’s going to be a lot of fun," he said, "because we’ve worked so hard to get there."
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.