Hawkeyes win thrilling Big Ten home opener against Michigan
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Coming into Sunday’s Big Ten home opener, Iowa hadn’t yet had its guts tested in a thrilling, down-to-the-wire game. It passed its first test against Michigan. Emphatically.
With three freshmen on the floor, the Hawkeyes reeled off clutch plays in the waning moments of regulation and overtime to eke out an 86-83 overtime win.
“We made enough plays,” coach Fran McCaffery said. “It wasn’t perfection, but we made our free throws. We executed the shots that we wanted.”
If the debacle against Purdue spread doubts throughout Iowa’s fan base, its sage performance against Michigan should go a long way to nullify those.
Freshmen Jordan Bohannon, Cordell Pemsl and Tyler Cook played the final minutes of the second half and the whole overtime period, along with Nicholas Baer and Peter Jok. Jok's the only upperclassman of the bunch, but they all looked experienced.
Bohannon drilled a no-hesitation transition 3-pointer to take a 72-71 lead with 1:58 left in regulation. Pemsl snared an offensive rebound off Jok’s miss and tied the game 74-all with a layup with 16 seconds left.
In overtime, Bohannon contorted his body for a right-handed reverse layup to take a 76-74 lead. He drilled another 3-pointer on the next possession. Nicholas Baer followed with a free-throw line floater to take an 81-79 lead, and Jok nailed a dagger 3-ball to go up 84-81 with 1:18 left.
And on both of Michigan’s last-shot opportunities — to win the game in regulation, to tie it in overtime — Iowa’s defense, which has justifiably been the target of lots of criticism, stepped up. Big-time.
It forced Derrick Warton Jr. to stumble and turn it over while attempting a drive to end regulation, and Pemsl thwacked the ball out of Zak Irvin’s hands as he rose for the final shot in overtime.
“We did a phenomenal job helping each other out toward the end of the game,” Bohannon said. “We made a huge stop at the end of the game on that last possession. It comes down to trusting your teammates and knowing that they have your back, even if you get beat.”
Added Cook: “It’s huge. It proves to us that we can (play good defense). Now it’s all about doing it consistently. That’s something we’ve been struggling with — our consistency.”
Cook started for the first time since he broke his finger against Memphis on Nov. 26. Like in West Lafayette, Ind., Cook left the gates slowly — three points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first half — before coming back strong in the second half. He finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, one turnover and just one personal foul in 31 minutes.
“I was really happy for (Cook), because he really grew up today,” McCaffery said. “He battled. He competed. He made some mistakes in the first half, and he knows it and it was pointed out to him. And he corrected it. And that shows you what he’s capable of.”
Cook was one of four freshmen to start for McCaffery. Bohannon, Pemsl and Isaiah Moss also got the nod.
“(McCaffery) tells us that we’re freshmen, but we can’t play like freshmen,” Cook said.
Bohannon logged his best game, with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go along with six assists and zero turnovers in 31 minutes. Pemsl scored just four but racked up eight boards, three assists, two blocks and three steals, including the game-winning steal. Moss netted seven on 3 of 4 shooting in 20 minutes.
Jok led Iowa with 25 points, and Baer chipped in 12 points and five rebounds off the bench.
The Hawkeyes travel to play Nebraska on Thursday at 8 p.m. That game will be on the Big Ten Network. The Huskers (8-6, 2-0 Big Ten) beat Maryland, 67-65, Sunday.
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.