IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa-Nebraska football rivalry could use this kind of bare-knuckled intensity.
The Cornhusker basketball team came into Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday intent on bullying the Hawkeyes, and it was evident from the beginning.
Nebraska guard Glynn Watson Jr. thumped Iowa freshman Jordan Bohannon on the head while trying to extract the basketball from his grip. The officials called it a jump ball. Iowa forward Tyler Cook jumped from his seat on the bench as if he were going to come to Bohannon’s aid, but thought better of it. Instead, he turned around and issued a warning to his teammates.
“You never want to see your guys get beat up like that,” Cook said. “I just told the guys that it was going to be a physical game. We saw it from that point on. So we just had to match their intensity and physicality, and we did.”
They did indeed. Iowa pulled away late to claim an 81-70 victory before a surly crowd of 13,495. It was the Hawkeyes’ third consecutive victory and avenged a 93-90 double-overtime loss at Nebraska last month.
The style of play was so rough that even an official was a casualty. Tom Eades limped off the court midway through the second half and the game concluded with just two referees.
In another key moment, Nebraska forward Jack McVeigh lost his shoe and had to limp back to try to play defense, looking as helpless as a hockey player without a stick. Iowa’s Brady Ellingson made him pay.
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“I ran on the baseline and I saw that his shoe was still off so I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to try to get the ball somehow,’” Ellingson said.
Ahmad Wagner made sure he did, and Ellingson buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key as McVeigh lunged at him with his right hand, his left still cradling the shoe.
It was Ellingson’s third 3-pointer, with 1 minute, 23 seconds left, that finally gave Iowa (14-10, 6-5 Big Ten Conference) some separation from the pesky Cornhuskers. That pushed the lead to 76-66.
Nebraska had no more fight after that.
“It was a clash basically the whole game. As the game went on, we kind of found our niche, found when to pick our spots, when to be super aggressive and when to lay off the physicality,” said Cook, who scored 13 points.
“We couldn’t let them be the aggressor for the whole game.”
Let Hawkeye forward Tyler Cook tell you
Nebraska (10-13, 4-7) stayed in the game by grabbing 16 offensive rebounds and converting them into 22 points.
Iowa countered with 9 of 19 3-point shooting and by making 18 of 23 free throws. Bohannon led the way with 15 points, including four 3-pointers. That gave him 54 on the season, a record for a Hawkeye freshman.
Nebraska was clearly trying to rattle Bohannon, but he was prepared.
“They did that last game at their place, and I had a couple of dumb turnovers,” Bohannon said of the extra attention he was getting.
“I think that was the game plan, just trying to mug me, Pete (Jok) and everyone down low — just trying to get some turnovers. But we were able to handle their pressure.”
It’s nothing Bohannon hasn’t seen before this season.
“I grew up around a household with my brothers beating me up every day. So I’m kind of used to it,” Bohannon said with a weary smile.
His three older brothers also played Division I basketball.
Bohannon played a team-high 33 minutes and committed two of the Hawkeyes’ 11 turnovers. But Iowa also had 22 assists on its 27 field goals, continuing a string of terrific passing. The victory put the Hawkeyes in sole possession of sixth place in the 14-team league.
The game marked the return of Jok to the starting lineup. The Hawkeyes’ senior star had missed the last two games to let an aching back and shoulder heal. He was rusty, but finished with 12 points, eight of them on free throws.
Jok had 34 points in the 50-minute loss in Lincoln. That result stuck in his craw, he admitted.
“We let that last game slip away from us. It’s been back in our head the whole time,” Jok said. “We’ve been looking forward to this game, looking at it like revenge.”
Vengeance wasn’t swift, but it did arrive eventually. All it took was a Hawkeye team willing to stand up to some punishment and inflict a little of its own.
“You got a team that came in here ready to defend,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They got after Pete. They got after Jordan. They got after us early.
“They were physical. If you’re going to score against that, you’ve got to move the ball.”
Iowa next plays at Minnesota on Wednesday.