Leistikow: What's next for Iowa's Jordan Bohannon, who looked like old self at Syracuse
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — What happens in Jordan Bohannon’s near future remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the most prolific 3-point shooter in Iowa basketball history is not yet ready to walk away from this season.
Bohannon’s season-high five 3-pointers helped to lift Iowa to an impressive 68-54 win at Syracuse on Tuesday night. He wound up with 17 points in a season-high 36 minutes, 41 seconds of playing time. With Iowa down to just eight healthy scholarship players, he's become one of the sort-of healthy ones.
Bohannon played all 20 minutes in Tuesday's second half of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup.
After the game?
“Pretty sore,” he said.
Moments like this are the reason he’s been giving it a go this season. At least for now.
“I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to provide for this team coming into the season,” Bohannon said, “but I knew I wanted to provide a couple signature wins for this team.”
About 6½ months removed from hip surgery, he’s already helped deliver two.
And both came in the games Bohannon has looked like his old self.
The Bohannon that fearlessly strokes a 25-foot, 3-point dagger into an opponent’s heart, again and again. The Bohannon that quiets an opposing arena when the home team is making a run.
Down 44-38 after making a pair of free throws about six minutes into the second half, Syracuse went into a full-court press for the first time.
Iowa broke it, and Bohannon nestled into the right corner and calmly buried a 3.
(Syracuse then got out of that press.)
The brief life in an announced crowd of 20,844 was gone. Iowa’s lead was 47-38. It grew to as many as 19 points on Bohannon’s fifth and final 3, with 4:14 remaining. That made it 66-47.
Ballgame. Iowa improved to 6-2 — perhaps 13 or so wins from the NCAA Tournament.
“When he’s hitting,” teammate Joe Wieskamp said, “it opens up things for other players.”
But every heroic effort comes with a cost.
Bohannon told me Tuesday his hip pain has reached the point that he’s no longer practicing. Coach Fran McCaffery is allowing Bohannon to rest between games, knowing that the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers — Bohannon now has 280 in his career (the Big Ten Conference record is 374) — has more value when he's fresh.
The extra rest was helpful in last week in Las Vegas against then-No. 12 Texas Tech, as Bohannon racked up 20 points and six assists in 33 minutes. But the quick turnaround against San Diego State the following day didn’t go so well.
Bohannon was not even close to 100% and couldn’t help the team as he wanted. The only three points he scored in 23 minutes were with 2:58 to go in an 83-73 loss.
“I haven’t really practiced at all,” Bohannon said. “Not to use that as an excuse. I just haven’t really been able to get into a rhythm this season. Like I said, just trying to come in and do what I can to help this team win.”
So, what happens next?
Bohannon has played in seven games. He's been assured that he can play in as many as 10 and still be eligible for a medical-hardship waiver, which — if approved — would allow him to return to the Hawkeyes for the 2020-21 season.
That option has always been in the back of Bohannon’s mind. And it continues to be, if the hip pain becomes too much.
In other words, Bohannon can give it a go for three more games and then make a decision.
Friday: At Michigan.
Monday: Home against Minnesota.
Next Thursday: At Iowa State.
Three fun, big games.
As I said … he’s not ready to walk away just yet.
Did you notice? Iowa is playing some really good defense.
Iowa’s humbling 93-78 loss to DePaul on Nov. 11 — a home game that was never competitive, with the Blue Demons racing to a 19-2 lead — has become a good loss.
That’s right. One, Iowa players were sickened by what they saw on film, and they vowed to change. Two, DePaul was 8-0 (including a win at Minnesota) entering Wednesday’s game against Texas Tech.
“We really took that game hard. Every one of us,” Luka Garza said Tuesday after scoring 23 points with nine rebounds against the Orange (4-4). “That locker room after, that’s just not what we wanted for this year to put out an effort like that. We’re not a team like that. That’s just not like us.”
The alarming part that stuck out: Iowa's insufficient defense.
Last week in that win at Texas Tech, defensive urgency was obvious.
That showed up against Syracuse, too.
You’d have to go back to the Mike Gesell-Jarrod Uthoff-Adam Woodbury era to find the last time that Iowa held a Power Five opponent to 54 points or fewer — a 73-49 against Penn State on Feb. 3, 2016.
Oh, and the 61 points scored last week by Texas Tech? That ties the fewest for the defending national finalist in its past 26 games.
“Other than the second half of San Diego State (when Iowa was outscored, 51-32), we were locked in defensively that whole trip. And we were locked in defensively the whole time tonight,” Wieskamp said. “I think we’ve learned from a lot of our mistakes, especially that DePaul game.”
Wieskamp, in particular, deserves praise.
He matched up with Syracuse’s best player, Elijah Hughes, and shut him down. The junior averages 19.0 points per game. Against Iowa, he scored 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting in 40 minutes. Wieskamp did a good job of picking up Hughes outside the 3-point line, before he got a chance to dictate terms. That intensity carried to his teammates.
“We all could play better offensively,” said guard Joe Toussaint, referencing Iowa’s so-so 42.6% shooting night. “But defensively, we were all in sync.”
That’s what matters. Good defense keeps you competitive, even if you're not at your best. Iowa’s defensive intensity should get even better when CJ Fredrick (who missed Tuesday's game) returns from a quad injury. Hopefully Friday against Michigan, McCaffery said.
“There were too many things (in the DePaul game) that were kind of like my freshman year (a 14-19 season), with a lack of defensive intensity,” Garza said. “Since then, we’ve picked it up a tremendous amount. And we’re just going to keep going.”
Before I leave Syracuse, a few words about Luka Garza.
The 6-foot-11 junior is a perfect representative of the way Iowa played Tuesday night.
He carries a steely demeanor and a black scar on his upper lip from the nasty shot he took in Vegas. Garza represents the blue-collar work ethic that his Hawkeye team requires, especially if Bohannon isn’t able to go much longer.
Garza’s season averages through eight games are 20.0 points (first in the Big Ten), 10.0 rebounds (third). Iowa played largely with a four-guard lineup against the Orange, with Garza being the rugged big man. His improved strength and experience have been prevalent, night in and night out.
But, hey, we’re all about improving. So what gives with Garza’s free throws?
He was an 80.1% shooter from the stripe a year ago but entered Tuesday at 58.3% this season.
“Just mental. None of it’s physical,” Garza told me, as we casually discussed this anomaly. “After every one of those games, I go into the gym and hit 25 in a row. That’s just the type of free-throw shooter I know I am.”
He was better Tuesday, going 4-for-5. That’s more like it. A solid 80%. His response?
"Should’ve been 5-for-5."
That’s the tenacity you want from your leading scorer. And whatever happens with Bohannon, it’s that kind of example you want for this team going forward.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.