Emmert's Thoughts: Iowa's Bohannon ushers win with gritty defense on UNI's Green

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

On the night Jordan Bohannon swished the 200th 3-pointer of his Iowa basketball career, all the talk centered on … his defense?

Believe it.

Bohannon drew the Hawkeyes’ most difficult assignment and attacked it with gusto, stopping Northern Iowa freshman star A.J. Green in his tracks and helping deliver a 77-54 victory in the final game of the Hy-Vee Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Iowa forward Tyler Cook scores two of his 17 points against Northern Iowa on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena. Cook, a junior, surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career as the Hawkeyes thumped the Panthers 77-54.

Green entered play averaging 16 points per game. He walked out of the state’s biggest gym with two measly first-half points.

It wasn’t all because of Bohannon. But much of it was.

“I knew I wanted to pressure him (Saturday), try to make his looks as tough as possible,” Bohannon said after Green connected on only one of his eight shots. “I thought I did a pretty good job of that to start the game and hopefully got him a little frustrated.”

Bohannon’s 3-pointer from left of the arc with 13:26 left in the first half gave No. 21 Iowa (8-2) an 18-7 lead and himself a large measure of relief. It was the 200th make of the junior’s career, just the seventh Hawkeye to hit that mark. But he had been on target only 14 times in 48 tries entering play, a dismal 29 percent accuracy that was unlike him.

Bohannon made two more 3-pointers Saturday, both over Green, who at 6-foot-4, is three inches taller. Both times, Bohannon appeared to say something to Green.

You bet, this was personal to Bohannon. It was Green who knocked Bohannon’s Linn-Mar team out of the Iowa high school Class 4A playoffs in 2016 with a game-winning jumper for Cedar Falls. That moment meant Bohannon ended his prep career having never made it to Wells Fargo Arena, where the state tournament is held.

“I’m really glad I was able to play in Wells Fargo at least a couple of times in my life,” Bohannon deadpanned after the game. “That (final high school) game will always have an imprint in my brain for the rest of my life.”

Bohannon has not been known for his defense at Iowa. Saturday was certainly his grittiest showing, as he shadowed Green all over the court and never backed off.

“You’ve got to bother him. You’ve got to be in his space. You’ve got to make him work. You’ve got to wear him down,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of guarding Green.

“J-Bo was up in his face. J-Bo picked him up early. But there’s down-screen action, there’s dribble-handoff action, there’s flex action. That’s all coming on top of what they do in transition, which is a lot of ball-screen action, and that gives him a lot of space to try to go to work. Well, we took that space away collectively and made him work.”

Bohannon did the bulk of the work for Iowa and deserves the bulk of the credit. Iowa led 39-18 at halftime and was never threatened. By Green or any other Panther.

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Cook also hits milestone for Hawkeyes

While Bohannon was locking down on Green, Hawkeye post players Tyler Cook (6-9) and Luka Garza (6-11) took care of the offense. They knew they had a massive size advantage on Northern Iowa (4-6) and exploited it perfectly.

Cook was exceptionally efficient, making six of his seven field goals and five of his six free throws, scoring 17 points with 13 rebounds and five assists. He led the Hawkeyes in each category (Garza tied him with 17 points). Cook has three double-doubles in his past four games.

In the process, Cook went over the 1,000-point mark in his career. He said later that number doesn’t mean as much to him as the final score.

“We’re judged by wins and losses,” Cook said.

McCaffery, sitting two seats to Cook’s right, was happy to hear that answer.

“When you have a guy who’s your best player, does he think that way? Is he a team guy?” McCaffery said.

The Hawkeyes have shown they can run their offense through Cook. They did so Saturday despite a strategic change by the Panthers to try to slow him down.

“They had not been doubling from the opposite post. They’d been doubling off the passer in previous games,” McCaffery said of Northern Iowa. “But (Cook) sees double-teams a lot, and he handles it. There’s no panic at all.

“He’s playing at a great pace. Last year, he would get revved up, and he’d go too fast and he’d turn it over a few times. He’s not making those mistakes.”

Iowa's Cordell Pemsl (35) sits on the bench during their basketball game at the Hy-Vee Classic on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in Des Moines. Iowa would go on to defeat UNI 77-54.

Pemsl pulls himself from action

Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl decided he wasn’t in condition to play Saturday. His right knee was bothering him again, nine days after he made a surprise appearance in the Hawkeyes’ 98-84 win over Iowa State.

“He just didn’t feel good. I said before, it’s literally day-to-day with him,” McCaffery said afterward. “I trust him to be able to make a decision and say, ‘Look, I can’t go.’ He knows if he’s going to be effective or not. It felt like he could be against Iowa State and he was (eight points, six rebounds). He didn’t feel like he could do it today. And I’m really proud of Ryan Kriener for the way he played.”

Kriener was the third post player for Iowa on Saturday, contributing five points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.

Pemsl originally was scheduled to have season-ending surgery on the right knee. The Iowa State game showed that might not be the case.

Now, it sounds as if Plan A is back in play. But it’s not official, McCaffery said.

Still, the coach isn’t going to let the situation drag out all season.

“He would get shut down,” McCaffery said. “I think there’s a possibility that he would still have his surgery. But we’ll wait and see.”

Iowa next hosts Western Carolina at 8 p.m. Tuesday.