Leistikow: Jordan Bohannon's shot was good, but so was his defense in important Iowa win

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

On a night that saw Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon bust out of his shooting slump, let’s talk about his … defense?

Yes. Because it was good Tuesday. Really good.

When Bohannon saw the scouting report for Big Ten Conference-leading Northwestern, he knew that he was drawing a difficult assignment. The fifth-year senior guard would be tasked to defend Boo Buie, who had blitzed Michigan State for 30 points just nine days earlier and was shooting 66.7% from 3-point range in the No. 22 Wildcats’ surprising 3-0 Big Ten start.

Jordan Bohannon connected on five second-half 3-pointers as Iowa pulled away from Northwestern, 87-72.

“A lot of what they do goes through the point guard,” Bohannon said. “So, I knew if I was able to disrupt him a little bit and get him off the flow of his game, that’d be huge for us.”

All Bohannon did was help hold Buie to two points on 1-of-8 shooting as the Hawkeyes pulled away for a much-needed, 87-72 win against the Wildcats in front of empty brown chairs and some cardboard cutouts at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

A winter storm socked our state Tuesday, as you know, which even limited family attendance. Earlier in the day, Bohannon urged his family members to stay home, given the conditions. Most of them obliged — except for brother Zach and his father, Gordy.

After the game, I reached out to Zach about his youngest brother’s terrific night — 24 points, five rebounds, five assists. His assessment? “Arguably the best all-around game he has played in his career, defense included.”

And it was that very defense — and perhaps a certain opponent — that helped wake up Jordan Bohannon’s shot.

“When I’m locked into defensively, when everyone’s locked in defensively, that’s going to lead to a lot of transition baskets,” Bohannon said. “And I think that’s what got me going.”

With Iowa clinging to a 49-45 lead, Bohannon rapidly raced around a screen to challenge a fade-away shot from Buie, who missed badly. On the other end of the floor, Bohannon busted though a double-team and was fouled by Buie.

He successfully drained both free throws, which would become the first of 19 second-half points he accounted for. Maybe those uncontested 15-footers got his shot going, too.

On the ensuing Northwestern possession, Miller Kopp missed a 3-pointer, and Bohannon corralled the rebound. He raced past regrouping Wildcats to find a familiar spot — just right of the key, about 24 feet — and swished a transition 3-pointer. He held the follow-through on that one just a little longer, as if to tell the world (and the near-empty arena): I’m back.

“Whenever I can get to the spots I've been hitting throughout my career,” Bohannon said, “is when I my confidence starts getting going.”

That would be the first of five 3s in the second half for Bohannon, who entered the game having just hit 27.9% (17-for-61) from 3 for the season — hardly characteristic of the program’s all-time leader with more than 300 3-pointers.

He was pulled into Fran McCaffery’s office earlier in the week. The coach told Bohannon he wanted to see the usual swagger from a guy who has made countless clutch shots over the course of his career. He also reminded Bohannon that he shouldn’t be too down on himself. After all, Bohannon is coming off two surgeries (one on each hip) and deserves some grace.

“Not to use that as an excuse, but I know I have a lot of catching up to do to get my rhythm back,” Bohannon said. “I think that helped, talking to coach McCaffery. It gave me the nudge a little more to realize that I’m a really good player.”

A proud McCaffery said afterward: “He’s as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever been around. He challenged himself to do what he did (tonight). It was fun to watch.”

Bohannon’s performance was a reminder that he's done special things against Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena over the years.

The intentionally missed free throw in 2018 that kept the late Chris Street’s consecutive free-throw record intact.

His 15 points in the final 5:28 of the amazing 2019 rally that he capped with a winning 3-pointer — to the right of the key, about 24 feet.

And now Tuesday’s slump-breaking performance, one that the Hawkeyes (8-2, 2-1 Big Ten) sorely needed. They’re squarely back in the mix in the league race after a disappointing meltdown and overtime loss at Minnesota. A win at Rutgers (7-1, 3-1) on Saturday, and you might say they’re league favorites again.

Bohannon finished 6-for-9 from 3-point land, taking the baton from CJ Fredrick’s 17-point first-half performance. When he’s on, the Hawkeyes can do special things.

“He’s a gamer,” Fredrick said. “Everybody knows that.”

Bohannon could’ve taken the opportunity during postgame interviews to bash his haters — something he’s unafraid to do. He knows the cries have been out there, that he needs to be on the bench more in favor of the quicker Joe Toussaint. But with Toussaint playing just four minutes Tuesday with a sprained ankle, this was Bohannon’s night.

But Bohannon instead expressed how thankful he was that he and his Hawkeye teammates were playing basketball during the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes that these games are a welcome two-hour distraction for Iowa fans everywhere that might be going through stress at home. He knows that even his critics just want their favorite team to win.

“At the end of the day, we realize that a lot of people do mean well,” Bohannon said. “… I think it’s a minority out there that’s loud on social media.

“We love our fan base. We know there’s a ton of people out there that really love the Iowa Hawkeyes."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.