Jordan Bohannon sums up Iowa's situation: 'We’re really good at times. We’re really bad at times.'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

AMES, Ia. — Jordan Bohannon describes himself as an “underdog kid.”

That’s certainly the position his Iowa men’s basketball team has created for itself heading into Hilton Coliseum for a 7 p.m. Thursday tipoff against in-state rival Iowa State on ESPN2.

The Hawkeyes sport a losing record for the first time this season (4-5) after turning in yet another wildly inconsistent effort and losing 77-64 at Indiana on Monday. Bohannon, the Hawkeyes’ sophomore point guard, got benched for 5 minutes in that one and ended up with only seven points against five turnovers.

Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon hasn't gotten clear for many 3-point attempts like this one against Virginia Tech, but he is hoping that changes Thursday at Iowa State. The Hawkeyes are sliding, losers of five of their past six games, and are looking for a jolt of confidence in the rivalry game.

Indiana went on a 14-0 scoring run in the first half; Iowa countered with a 16-2 burst to open the second half; the Hoosiers promptly outscored the lifeless Hawkeyes 18-0 to put away the victory.

This has been the pattern of despair for an Iowa team that has dropped five of six games and seems to be in danger of losing its confidence. Opposing teams start scoring at will. The Hawkeyes’ shoulders start sagging; by the time they respond, the game is out of hand.

“We’re really good at times. We’re really bad at times,” Bohannon said. “And that can’t happen and be a good team.”

Bohannon is the player most likely to make the Hawkeye offense go. But he’ll face a stout test in Cyclones point guard Nick Weiler-Babb, a 6-foot-5 junior who has a five-inch height advantage and the confidence of guiding a team on a five-game win streak and with a notoriously raucous home crowd behind it.

It’s in environments like this, against teams with the perimeter talent of Iowa State, that the Hawkeyes have struggled the most this season. It will challenge Iowa’s toughness as much as anything. Do the players have the resolve to play defense even when the shots aren’t falling?

“It’s pretty frustrating because that’s what we preach — just once we get hit we’ve got to hit back even harder and not get hit again,” Iowa guard Maishe Dailey said of his team’s five losses.

“We have to trust each other and make adjustments early and build off what we did last year.”

Iowa was 4-5 heading into its matchup with Iowa State last year. The Hawkeyes won that, 78-64, captured the next three contests and ended up 19-15.

But that team was playing at home and had then-senior guard Peter Jok.

This year’s team has looked lost for long stretches of most games, with poor offense leading to poorer defense.

“At times, I think we’ve gotten a little bit tentative. I don’t know about soft. I think we’re physical enough,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who admitted Wednesday he’s thinking about lineup changes for Thursday’s game. “When I think about competing, it’s not physical. It’s not smash-mouth. It’s having the discipline to execute at the appropriate times.”

Iowa's Tyler Cook, top, shoots over Indiana's Justin Smith during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Iowa players have mentioned that not everyone is following the game plan this season, indicating that that has led to the losses.

McCaffery said he’s seen his Hawkeyes often try to make one-on-one plays rather than stick with the script. But he also said that’s not always a bad thing.

“I don’t think it’s anything other than guys that consider themselves players that are trying to make plays. They’re going on their own and they’re trying to do something aggressive,” he said. “You always want that, but at the same time remembering the game plan, the scouting report and all the things that we’ve prepared them for. There’s always going to be a little bit of both but we’ve got to do a better job of locking in, especially given the caliber of teams we’re playing right now.”

Iowa State (5-2) has a talented trio of perimeter players in Weiler-Babb, senior Donovan Jackson and freshman Lindell Wigginton. They average 45.8 points among them.

The Hawkeyes have not defended the 3-point arc well all season, and McCaffery’s fear is that the Cyclones will spread his team out and take advantage of that.

Iowa counters with an advantage in size and depth in the frontcourt. If the Hawkeyes can get Solomon Young or Cameron Lard in foul trouble, that may offset the Cyclones’ edge on the perimeter.

The Hawkeyes will still be without freshman point guard Connor McCaffery, Fran’s son, who is recovering from mononucleosis. Sophomore forward Ryan Kriener remains questionable to play with a concussion suffered in Saturday’s loss to Penn State.

The hope is that the other Iowans on the roster — Bohannon, Nicholas Baer and Cordell Pemsl — will have extra personal motivation to knock off the Cyclones. Jok was notably pumped up last season and put up 23 points and nine rebounds in the Hawkeye win. Pemsl had 11 points, Baer 10.

That win turned Iowa’s season around. McCaffery thinks it could happen again.

“Our defense got better for sure in that stretch,” he said of Iowa’s five-game win streak a December ago. “Hopefully the same thing will happen this year.”