Iowa basketball takeaways: Bohannon back in form, a winning rotation and Baer's leadership
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Big Shot Bohannon was back.
Not that Iowa’s freshman point guard ever really went away, but Jordan Bohannon showed off a shooting prowess Tuesday that hadn’t been seen since a Jan. 1 home win over Michigan.
Bohannon scored 17 points while making 5-of-7 3-pointers to lead the Hawkeyes past Rutgers 83-63 at the RAC. It was Iowa’s first road win of the season, and it came against a Scarlet Knights team that paid every time they backed away from Bohannon.
His range extends 5 feet beyond the arc, and at 6-feet tall, he has learned to get his shot off quickly and in tight windows. Bohannon also has the mentality that every shot he takes is a wise one, destined to find the bottom of the basket. All of that was on display Tuesday.
Bohannon added four assists and no turnovers in a team-high 26 minutes.
“Flawless,” was Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s one-word description of Bohannon’s performance. "He was spectacular. He ran the offense, no turnovers, loaded people up, made shots, shot when he was open. He’s terrific.”
Bohannon was battling a flu bug last week when Iowa fell 76-64 at Illinois. He was administered an IV before that game and didn’t look like his usual energetic self.
He scored 12 points in Saturday’s 85-72 win over Ohio State, but was 4-of-10 from the arc.
On Tuesday, he was the carefree Bohannon that Iowa relies upon.
“I’m fully healthy, so I’m able to do a lot more,” Bohannon said.
“Starting out with that first make, I think that’s a big thing in a shooter’s mindset, just having that first shot go in and then realizing you can start filling it up.”
Iowa, playing a second consecutive game without senior star Peter Jok, thrived on balance again. But Bohannon set the tone. Other takeaways from Tuesday’s rout on the road:
A promising pecking order
While Jok lets his aching back rest, McCaffery has inserted a pair of sophomores into the starting lineup and gotten strong results. Nicholas Baer is replacing Jok on the wing. Ahmad Wagner is starting in place of freshman Cordell Pemsl in the post.
That has meant better energy at the start of games, but also an efficient second unit. Pemsl had 15 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes Tuesday.
He admitted the team has been better with him in a reserve role.
“We’ve got the energy at the start of the game. We’ve got the energy coming off the bench that helps throughout the game. And then closing out games as well,” Pemsl said. “So maybe this is the formula that we need.”
McCaffery used 12 players Tuesday and 10 on Saturday. That’s a lot of minutes to spread out, but he’s said repeatedly that his entire roster is earning that time.
“It’s just other opportunities for players who have talent who sometimes don’t get a chance because others are ahead of them.” McCaffery said.
Keeping the ball moving
The most noticeable aspect of Iowa’s two recent wins has been the teamwork it took to produce them. The Hawkeyes have passed the ball better in the past four days then they had all season, and have 45 assists on 62 made baskets to show for it.
“It starts with me,” Bohannon said. “I’ll always say that it starts with the point guard, whether it’s lack of energy. I need to start bringing energy.
“I did a pretty good job just breaking the press. We were able to find our shooters, get it inside, they were kicking it out.”
Iowa’s last four halves of basketball have produced the following offensive statistics — 50 percent shooting, 10 assists on 15 field goals; 50 percent shooting, 11 assists on 17 field goals; 51.5 percent shooting, 13 assists on 17 field goals; and 48.1 percent shooting, 11 assists on 13 field goals.
Only a few missed shots late against Rutgers prevented the Hawkeyes from stringing together four consecutive halves of at least 50 percent shooting.
And it’s been everybody getting in on the action. Assist totals from the last two games include: Baer 8, Brady Ellingson 8, Dom Uhl 7, Bohannon 5, Pemsl 5.
“It’s been a lot crisper. Guys being receivers, screening well, being unselfish with the ball,” Baer said approvingly. “Whenever you have that, it’s going to be a recipe for success and a road win.”
In Jok’s absence, Ellingson and Isaiah Moss in particular have become more aggressive offensive players.
McCaffery singled them out in his postgame remarks, and for good reason.
Moss got into early foul trouble against Ohio State, but scored six points in the second half of that one. He added 11 points against Rutgers, the first time he’s been in double digits since a loss at Nebraska four weeks ago.
Ellingson scored a team-high 17 points against Ohio State, on 5-of-7 3-point shooting, and followed that with six points at Rutgers. He also had five assists Tuesday and has shown himself to be a slyly effective passer. Ellingson is also ultra-reliable. The sophomore has only seven turnovers all season.
Becoming a leader
Also in Jok’s absence, it has been apparent what a willing leader Baer is. Not only is he taking Jok’s spot in the lineup for now, but he’s also the player who rallies the Hawkeyes when the going gets tough. Not that it ever did Tuesday, but that also is a testament to strong leadership.
Baer said he and Wagner talked about the need to be steadying influences in a starting lineup among three freshmen.
Baer’s shot was off Tuesday — he made only 1-of-6 attempts — but he came up with five rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots to have a significant impact on the game. It was also noteworthy that Iowa built a big lead and never let Rutgers make a dent. Baer’s 25 minutes of court time were essential to that effort.
“When you get up, it’s easy to let that lead go from 15 to seven sometimes. But instead it went from 15 to 23,” Baer said. “That’s what’s important for us growing as a team, being able to push those leads.”