The Iowa freshman canned the winning 3-pointer at Wisconsin with 9 seconds left.
MADISON, Wis. — Iowa had just scored the final seven points of the game Thursday to hand No. 22 Wisconsin a 59-57 setback.
It was the Hawkeyes’ third consecutive win, the second in the row on the road against a ranked team (after dispatching Maryland on Saturday).
Is this team peaking at the tail end of its season, Nicholas Baer was asked.
Iowa’s sophomore forward brushed the question aside.
“I wouldn’t say peaking. I think anytime you say peaking you’re also talking about plateauing,” Baer said. “I think we’re rising.”
Fair enough. The win allowed Iowa to rise to No. 73 in the crucial RPI measurement that helps determine NCAA Tournament berths. The team is still on the outside looking in, but a loss Thursday would have eliminated all hope of an at-large selection.
WEEKEND SPECIAL: Inside the personal evolution of Peter Jok
So give Iowa credit for once more following a three-game losing streak with a trio of victories. This team just refuses to be counted out.
Fran McCaffery was asked why his seventh Iowa Hawkeyes team seems to be gaining momentum as March arrives when previous versions (notably last year’s) were heading in the opposite direction.
“I think we have more shooters,” was his simple answer. “We had a lot of guys that could play (in past years), but I think this team’s got a few more weapons from 3-point range.”
Baer was chief among those Thursday, making 4 of 5 from the arc to tie a career-high.
Guards Peter Jok and Jordan Bohannon have each made 71 3s this season, the first time the Hawkeyes have ever seen two players exceed 70 in the same season.
Iowa has made 25 of 45 from 3-point range in its past two road upsets. That kind of shooting may make for a memorable March indeed.
Bohannon’s game-winning 3-pointer rightly dominated coverage of the comeback victory Thursday. But there were a few other big plays in that end-game sequence that shouldn’t be overlooked.
First, Hawkeyes forward Ahmad Wagner stole a Nigel Hayes pass in Wisconsin’s backcourt with 1:38 left and then did something even more impressive: Instead of merely passing the ball to set up the offense, he put his head down and drove to the basket for a contested layup to cut the deficit to 57-56. Why so impressive? It was Wagner’s only basket of the game.
A minute later, with the score unchanged, Bohannon had a clean look from the top of the key and air-balled his 3-point attempt. Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl grabbed Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ on the rebound before Happ could pass to a teammate much better at the free-throw line.
Happ is a terrific player but a horrible free-throw shooter, at just 48.5 percent. Iowa needed him to miss one of his two attempts in order for Bohannon’s shot to be the game-winner. Happ missed both.
Was that a savvy play by the freshman Pemsl?
McCaffery wasn’t so sure.
“I think he was just going for the rebound. I don’t think he intentionally fouled Happ because he was complaining to the official that he didn’t foul him,” McCaffery said.
Nevertheless, it was Pemsl again who made a clutch play by digging out the rebound of a Jok miss with 15 seconds left and spotting Bohannon at the left elbow calling for the ball. That was the assist on the shot of the year for the Hawkeyes.
“A lot of times you get a traffic rebound, your first instinct is to go back up. He had the presence of mind to make a pass. He looked for Jordan,” McCaffery said. "The pass was right on the money. You’ve got to load Jordan up right in his wheelhouse. That’s what Cordell did. And that’s why it was incredible.”
Happ vs. Baer?
The Iowa forward was hot himself, going 4-for-4 on 3s in the first half.
Happ and Baer were AAU teammates a few years ago. Happ is a finalist for the Naismith Award now, while Baer is the gritty former walk-on who has become a do-it-all mainstay for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa double-teamed Happ constantly Thursday, setting the tone on the initial sequence when Tyler Cook and Bohannon converged on him near the baseline and forced a turnover. Baer had his share of defensive moments against his old teammate as well, picking up three steals and helping limit Happ to nine shot attempts.
But Baer said he never looked at it as a one-on-one scenario.
“We have two really different games. I’m just really happy that we got to play against each other,” Baer said.
“We needed to get a win. We needed to help our resume to get into the NCAA Tournament. I think any time you focus on an individual battle, that will be to the detriment of your team and distract you from the focus that you need to have.”
The Hawkeye also explains what happened on his Flagrant 1 with Zak Showalter.
Jok made only two buckets Thursday but did scratch one big item off his bucket list. The Kohl Center was the only Big Ten venue where the Iowa senior had not emerged victorious.
He said he was aware of that fact heading into the game but quickly turned a question about it into a diatribe on the officiating, particularly an odd play that occurred with 3:12 remaining. Zak Showalter was called for a foul on Jok, who made his first free throw before the officials went to the monitor and determined that Jok had also committed a flagrant foul on the play. So both players ended up shooting free throws.
“Somebody told me that before,” Jok said of winning in all 14 Big Ten arenas. “We knew there were going to be a lot of bad calls during the game. Our mindset was just to stay focused and stay with each other no matter what they do and get back on defense and stop them. It was just a big win for the team and the program.
“First off, (Showalter) should’ve been fouled out in the first half the way he was guarding me, grabbing me. It’s like a football game out there. I was trying to come off the screen, and he was right there, and he grabbed me. I was trying to swing. And they say I hit him in the face.”