Leistikow: Iowa basketball unleashes record barrage of 3-pointers, rewrites Big Ten Tournament history
INDIANAPOLIS — Twelve months ago in this very building, Jordan Bohannon gazed in disbelief, a towel draped around his neck. After committing a flagrant foul early in the second half of Iowa's second-round NCAA Tournament game, Bohannon was relegated to the bench for the final 17 minutes, 44 seconds of a lopsided loss to Oregon. His final stat line: 0 points on 0-for-4 shooting and a minus-17 rating.
Before surprisingly — even to him — deciding to return for a final season at Iowa, those figured to be the final moments of a storied college basketball career.
So, the sixth-year senior wasn’t about to waste this unexpected postseason opportunity.
Bohannon came out firing in Iowa’s Big Ten Conference tournament opener, launching a deep 3-pointer and striking nothing but net just 90 seconds into Thursday’s game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. That kicked off a team-wide onslaught from distance as the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes set a Big Ten tournament record with 19 3-pointers and steamrolled 12th-seeded Northwestern, 112-76, to advance into Friday’s 1 p.m. CT quarterfinal against Rutgers.
The Hawkeyes also set conference-tournament records for scoring, field goals (43) and margin of victory (36).
“Very frustrating and devastating how everything ended (last year), and that was one of the worst games of my career," Bohannon said. "It really affected me. I’m really fortunate Fran (McCaffery) asked me to come back for another year, so I could get redemption at this place. Because we played really well today.”
Bohannon was feeling it Thursday, popping in a couple of "logo-shot" 3s that have been made famous this winter in Iowa City by women’s star Caitlin Clark. Bohannon’s 35-footer pushed Iowa’s lead to 59-30, then a scooped one-hander off the glass with 4 seconds on the clock gave Iowa an almost-unthinkable 64-31 lead at halftime.
The message had been sent after 20 minutes: The Hawkeyes aren't messing around this week.
And while Bohannon set the long-range tone, everyone was seemingly in on the act. Ten different Hawkeyes hit 3-pointers, with deep reserves Austin Ash and Luc Laketa (off the glass with 20 seconds to go) converting late. Seven Hawkeyes alone canned 3-pointers in the first half, when the team shot 69% (11-for-16) from long range. For the game, Iowa was 19-for-29 from 3 (65.5%).
Sensational sophomore Keegan Murray did it all, as usual, smoothly popping in a pair of early 3-pointers. Iowa's lead was 20-6 in the blink of an eye. The first-team Sporting News all-American at one point late in the first half had seven rebounds to Northwestern’s team total of six. He finished with 26 points on efficient 11-of-16 shooting with eight rebounds in just 21 minutes of court time. It was a huge benefit that Murray was able to rest for the game's final 14:01.
Filip Rebraca delivered a versatile performance. The center's third-chance put-back on Iowa's first possession sent the message that the Hawkeyes would scrap. He finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
After missing two of the last three games with a hip injury and illness, Patrick McCaffery returned with 10 points in 18 minutes. Tony Perkins had six points and a career-best six assists. Payton Sandfort was hot from deep, contributing 13 points. (Naturally, a Payton would have success in downtown Indianapolis.)
And for Bohannon, this was an important bounce-back game considering he was shut out in the regular-season finale at Illinois. Bohannon finished with 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, with his 445th career 3-pointer giving Iowa 15 3s to set the Big Ten tournament mark. Iowa's lead was 86-48 at that point with 12:41 to go.
"When Bohannon's making 30-footers and those guys are shooting the way they are and with what Keegan can do," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said, "it's going to be very hard for anybody to beat them the way they played (Thursday)."
And with all the scoring accolades, get this: Iowa outrebounded Northwestern, 45-18.
Forty-five to 18.
Not lost on Bohannon was that the Hawkeyes were able to clear the bench in the final 10 minutes. He made a great point, that it makes the regulars happy — because they get to rest and watch their teammates have a few moments to shine — while also being a nice reward for a lot of guys that work hard year round without much playing time.
"The walk-ons come in, they're able to get a chance to play in front of their families and be a part of this Big Ten Conference Tournament experience," Bohannon said. "It kind of builds the team morale, and it continues to help our team going forward, especially when you're trying to make it run at the end of the season."
It was a satisfying day, no doubt. And a much-needed performance for an Iowa program that had never won a Big Ten tournament game as a No. 5 seed, having gone 0-for-4 in previous attempts.
That dubious history included a 68-66 loss in 2016 to 12th-seeded Illinois, in which Peter Jok scored 29 points but fouled out with 4:17 to play. It included a 67-58 loss to 13th-seeded Penn State in 2015 as Iowa allowed 48 second-half points and shot 3-for-15 from 3-point range.
But there was no Hawkeye face-plant in this one.
"We can't play much better than we played (Thursday)," Fran McCaffery confessed.
And now comes a rematch with fourth-seeded Rutgers and perhaps more history for McCaffery to shed. No McCaffery team in 10 previous tries at Iowa has won multiple games at a Big Ten Tournament. And none of his Hawkeye teams have defeated a better-seeded team in this event in six attempts — a staggering statistic, really, that highlights why the fan base is so hungry for postseason success. That includes a loss to second-seeded Illinois in last year’s Big Ten semifinals.
Rutgers presents an interesting matchup. The Scarlet Knights (18-12) got the double bye here because of the tiebreaker they earned with an ugly 48-46 win against Iowa on Jan. 19 in Piscataway, New Jersey. You probably remember that one as the game that Courtney Green whistled an inexplicable foul on Murray with 2 seconds remaining that decided the outcome. But more inexplicably, Iowa — which has the nation’s third-most efficient offense — shot 27.9% from the floor that night, including 22.2% (6-for-27) from 3-point range.
McCaffery said he absolutely didn't think about revenge games.
“I’ve definitely been marking this game when we saw them on our side of the bracket," Bohannon said. "We deserved an overtime there, and we weren’t given it. That’s OK. We’ll have to earn this win (Friday).”
And guess who else has this game circled?
Murray had 13 points, his third-lowest total of the season, on 5-for-14 shooting at Rutgers.
Iowa (23-9) is a different team now and will be favored to beat Rutgers in a neutral setting, one that should have a pro-Hawkeye presence on Friday.
"We wanted this game," Murray said, "and we got it now."
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.