Leistikow: Tears and treasured moments punctuate Iowa's feel-good finale vs. Northwestern
IOWA CITY — A day after the Iowa women’s basketball team enjoyed their storybook finish to the regular season with a Big Ten Conference championship on their home court, the Hawkeye men couldn’t have written a more perfect home finale.
Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery and Austin Ash — the three senior players honored during pregame ceremonies — enjoyed unforgettable moments throughout Iowa’s 82-61 rout of Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It was almost like (Monday) was scripted, you could say,” Bohannon said.
Bohannon promptly got a technical foul in his 93rd and final home game after complaining a non-foul call, signaling he was going to be feisty on this Monday night. He would dazzle the home crowd with the 432nd, 433rd, 434th and 435th 3-pointers of his six-year career. Only J.J. Redick of Duke, with 457, has more among power-conference players in NCAA history.
Bohannon finished with 18 points and four assists, exiting the floor by kissing the Tigerhawk logo at midcourt.
“I really wasn’t that emotional before the game. … But after the game, everything just hit me,” said Bohannon, who is now just 44 points shy of becoming the third Hawkeye ever with 2,000. “The announcer saying my name one last time … and having my family by my side, it’ll be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
McCaffery found himself blowing on his left hand as his scorching 3-point accuracy continued while starting in place of his injured younger brother, Patrick. That hand certainly remained hot, as McCaffery canned a career-high five 3-pointers on nine attempts. He said all but two felt good off his hands. The Carver faithful has gone from groaning when he takes a shot to now begging him to unleash from distance.
McCaffery finished with a season-high 17 points. He has the option to return for a sixth season but said he felt like this was it — especially after seeing his father, Hawkeye head coach Fran McCaffery, cry.
“I think he’s cried three times in his life, and one of them was when (son) Patrick had cancer,” Connor said. “He never cries, and he was bawling. That definitely got me.”
Fran McCaffery had a flashback Monday to when Connor was a young boy and went on a road trip but wanted to sit on his father’s lap during games. That wouldn’t fly, of course, but Connor would hand his dad a pen in the team huddle during timeouts.
“You wondered, ‘Will he be good enough to participate at this level?’ For me, it was incredibly emotional,” the head coach said. “His mother (Margaret) was bawling as soon she walked into the arena.”
Ash, the longtime walk-on who was put on scholarship as a fifth-year senior, got into the rout with 5:55 remaining, and the Carver crowd roared with anticipation. The fans knew his propensity for launching Caitlin Clark-range 3s would kick in soon. And it did.
On a pass back from longtime friend Connor McCaffery, from the beak of the Tigerhawk, Ash heaved a 35-footer. He knew it was good. So did Connor.
“That’s an easy shot for him,” Connor said. “I don’t know if you guys saw (in pregame), but he probably made about 14 or 15 in a row from the exact spot, shooting bombs.”
Ash's swish to give Iowa a 76-49 lead. Unfortunately, Ash would break his nose a few moments later when diving for a loose ball — perhaps adding to the can’t-make-this-up night.
“Hearing the students chant my name,” Ash said, “and having that moment with Connor on the floor, who I’ve been playing with since seventh grade, (and) in front of my family, was a really cool moment. Surreal.”
Another Hawkeye probably in his final home game did a few things, too. Sophomore Keegan Murray, a projected lottery pick in the next NBA Draft, overpowered Northwestern with a 26-point, 18-rebound performance. It seemed to be no accident that Fran McCaffery left Murray on the floor with Bohannon, Ash and his oldest son in the closing minutes. Those were likely Murray’s final ticks of the clock at Carver, too.
Murray's tremendous performance was highlighted by his poking away a steal and retrieving the ball in stride, just across the half-court line. He needed only one dribble with his powerful, long strides to slam home a dunk for a 53-29 Hawkeye lead.
But as great as those moments were, none of them compared to what happened during a late timeout as student manager Jack Devlin, who was also honored on this senior night, got a basketball in his hands at half-court.
“We’re not even paying attention to the timeout (huddle),” Bohannon said.
Instead, the team was fixated on Devlin.
Devlin’s story was detailed in a Big Ten Network piece a few years back. Devlin is part of the university’s REACH program (Realizing Educational and Career Hopes) for students with learning disabilities and was welcomed as a Hawkeye manager in a limited role. He was quiet at first, but not for long. He endeared himself to the team, and he would wow the players with his attempts at half-court shots in practice.
This year, he had more responsibility than ever and for the first time has been making road trips with the team.
Players had been practicing with Devlin this week, in advance for this planned late-game timeout. It was perfect that Iowa was blowing out the Wildcats. The pressure was off. If Devlin could heave home a 3, it would be a perfect night. But unlike with Ash, Connor McCaffery wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I’m going to be honest: he’s been cold recently,” Connor said, laughing. “He’s been ice-cold.”
But, par for the course on this night, Devlin’s second attempt hit nothing but net.
“Today, I think the adrenaline got him there,” Connor said. “You can’t make it up.”
The entire team swarmed him — in the middle of the timeout, mind you. Love for Jack took over the arena. The scene of feelgood joy resonated on this night and will resonate with Devlin forever.
"I knew as soon as that thing went in, the players were going to go nuts,” said Fran McCaffery, who hugged Devlin and was beaming bigger than we've even seen him beam before. "It’s truly genuine and just a great feeling for all of us."
Sure, important basketball games are coming soon. March is here. But this night was about celebrating those who have given so much to the program. And it couldn't have been more perfect.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.