No. 20 Iowa follows perfect recipe for a comeback, starting with defense

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s one-in-100 shot at rallying to beat Northwestern on Sunday will long be remembered for the Jordan Bohannon 3-pointer that was the finishing blow.

But it started with the full-court pressure that produced three turnovers in a row. That’s how a 15-point deficit turned into 10. That’s how the No. 20 Hawkeyes started to believe it was even possible to turn around a game that it appeared had long been decided.

That’s how an 80-79 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena came to pass.

“We said that we weren’t going to go down without a fight, and we did a really good job of that,” Bohannon said after scoring 15 points in the final 6 minutes to lead that charge.

“We sped them up off the press and got them sideways, got some huge turnovers.”

Leistikow:Four great minutes, one thrilling victory for Iowa basketball

There was a steal by Iowa freshman Joe Wieskamp. Then Northwestern star Vic Law was called for traveling. Finally, the Wildcats were called for a 10-second violation in their backcourt. You could see some doubt creeping in for a team that had led 72-57 with 4 minutes, 30 seconds to go, prompting some fans to head to the exits. Northwestern’s win probability at that point exceeded 99 percent.

“The activity in the press was as good as it's been all year. We differentiated how we played it. We can play it aggressively. We can play it more as a contained press. We did all three throughout the game,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

“Then we started trapping them on the sides, chasing them on the sides, got some trapping situations. Consequently, they weren't as aggressive scoring the ball.”

The turnovers were followed by a trio of 3-point shots. Bohannon started things with one from the right elbow that cut Northwestern’s lead to 74-65 with 2:48 left. Iowa hadn’t been that close for 5 minutes. That’s when Hawkeye forward Tyler Cook started to believe a comeback was possible.

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) is embraced by Iowa forward Riley Till on the bench after making a 3-point basket to defeat Northwestern during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I didn’t really look at the scoreboard much down the stretch in terms of how close are we, worrying about if we were going to give ourselves a chance to win,” said Cook, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. “I think at some point you’ve just got to play the game, play every possession to win and that’s what I tried to focus on. I just wanted to make sure I was executing.”

Wieskamp buried a difficult 3-pointer with 2:04 left and the Hawkeyes were within 76-68. Bohannon pulled up on a fast break and nailed a shot that made it 76-71 with 1:24 remaining.

Northwestern started guarding the 3-point arc tighter at that point. The Hawkeyes made smart decisions by taking the ball to the basket. It was no time to panic.

A Wieskamp drive on a fast break made it a one-possession game for the first time in the second half, 76-73 with 42 seconds on the clock. After a pair of Wildcat free throws, Bohannon drove from the right wing and pulled Iowa within 78-75 with 25 seconds left.

That’s when Iowa benefited from the first of two crucial Northwestern misses from the free-throw line. A.J. Turner couldn’t connect on the front end of a one-and-one. Isaiah Moss turned that into a tough drive down the lane for a basket that made the score 78-77 with 16 seconds remaining.

Law made only one of two free throws with 10 seconds left.

That’s when Bohannon provided the most memorable finish of the season for the Hawkeyes (19-5, 8-5 Big Ten Conference).

“It just didn't look like it was going to happen today,” McCaffery said.

“If you manage the clock properly. You get a couple stops. We're in the bonus. Mix in a couple 3s. It's five possessions. That's all it is. They understood that.”

There it is. The recipe for a comeback. Three turnovers; three 3-pointers; three 2-pointers; and then the 3 that will be playing on highlight reels forever.

The Hawkeyes pulled it off to perfection.

The first 35 minutes were forgettable

Northwestern was on a three-game losing streak entering Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa had defeated the Wildcats on the road 73-63 earlier this season.

No matter.

The visiting team was the aggressor from the opening tip Sunday. Northwestern’s 79 points were six more than it had scored against any other Big Ten opponent this season. The Wildcats shot 52 percent from the field. They outrebounded Iowa 37-26.

It took a minor miracle for the Hawkeyes to pull out a victory that should have been much easier.

“I just don’t think we played to the best of our ability at either end of the floor. Offensively, we were impatient I think to a degree. We didn’t move our motion as well as we usually do,” Cook said.

“We were fortunate enough to learn a lesson with a ‘W.’”

That is the lesson. Iowa won’t win in March if it plays as flat as it did most of the game Sunday.

Wieskamp plays through discomfort

Wieskamp led Iowa with 21 points Sunday, playing 32 minutes. The other 8 minutes he spent riding a stationary bike in the tunnel, an attempt to keep his back loose.

It’s been bothering him for a while, Wieskamp said afterward. It hindered him in preparation for this game, not that you would have noticed it in his performance. Now Iowa gets five days in between games, and Wieskamp plans to spend them getting extra treatment for the back.

“It took everything I had to finish out that game, but I’m very glad that I did,” Wieskamp said.

There is some uncertainty surrounding the health of Iowa senior Nicholas Baer, as well. He appeared to take a shot to the head with 3:10 remaining in the game Sunday and did not return.