Iowa’s coach praises Jordan Bohannon for handling all the defensive attention he’s getting Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Jordan Bohannon spent all summer preparing for a heavy winter workload.
Iowa’s sophomore point guard envisioned opposing teams plotting against him. He conditioned himself to have the stamina to hold up under full-court duress. He practiced getting off his 3-point shots even quicker, with more accuracy.
It may be getting lost in what has been a disappointing Hawkeye season, but Bohannon has improved markedly from a freshman campaign that saw him average 10.9 points on 41.6 percent 3-point shooting.
Bohannon is at the top of every team’s scouting report, yet somehow is also scoring more, shooting better and getting to the free-throw line more frequently.
He gets his biggest test yet at 11 a.m. Saturday when No. 3 Purdue visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a game televised on ESPN. The Boilermakers (18-2, 7-0 Big Ten Conference) lead the nation in point differential, on average outscoring opponents by 22.6 points per game. They start four rugged seniors and an extremely talented sophomore guard in Carsen Edwards.
Bohannon, averaging 13.5 points per game and connecting on 44.5 percent of his 3-pointers, will be a marked man again. He leads the Big Ten with 2.9 made 3-pointers per game, including three straight in which he’s hit five.
“He's pretty crafty. He dealt with that in high school and he dealt with that on the AAU circuit. Obviously, bigger, stronger, better caliber athletes now, but sort of the same concept,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of his 6-foot, 180-pound floor leader.
“He's developed ways to get open. I think the tendency is, when you're a really good shooter, to force and just jack. He doesn't do that because, if he did, he wouldn't be shooting 45 percent. So he'll wait, and it will come eventually.”
The Iowa point guard has put in the work to hold up under intense defensive pressure Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
Bohannon is a one-man show at point guard for Iowa after Christian Williams left in the offseason and Connor McCaffery required a tonsillectomy a month ago. Sophomore Maishe Dailey is backing up Bohannon, but he’s a natural wing player and not yet equipped to run the show for long against Big Ten opponents. Junior Brady Ellingson is a shooting guard who has played out of position at times and has scored only two points since the calendar turned to January.
That has meant more playing time, more bruises absorbed, for Bohannon. Not that he’s complaining. He said he saw late last year how defenses would attack him and entered his sophomore season ready after a summer of conditioning. It also helps that he hasn’t had to deal with the plantar fasciitis that cropped up late in his freshman year.
“I did a really good job over the offseason getting my body in the top condition I need it to be,” Bohannon said of his 30.4-minute-per-game workload. “I never really came out as a kid, either. I worked my butt off last year just to earn the starting spot in the first place. Thirty-five minutes, 40 minutes, whatever. I’m always going to have that day after a game.”
McCaffery said he hasn’t eased up on Bohannon’s practice load because he knows the sophomore is in great shape. Bohannon said he does sometimes pace himself in practice to make sure he’s ready once the basketball is tipped off for real.
His teammates, even in the midst of a 10-10 season that includes a dismal 1-6 mark in conference play, appreciate what Bohannon is giving them.
“It’s incredible the things that he’s doing. I know it’s frustrating for him. Obviously, they’re picking him up full-court almost every game,” Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl said of Bohannon.
“We know if we want to win games it can’t all be on his shoulders. … Nobody really understands how hard he’s working to get those looks. It doesn’t come easy for him, obviously, when everybody has him marked, but he’s been doing a really good job of getting our team orchestrated.”
Bohannon’s assist numbers are down slightly, from 5.1 per game last year to 4.85. And his turnovers have climbed under the increased burden, to 2.3 per contest instead of 2.1.
But lately he’s shown an aggressiveness about attacking the lane that has drawn him more free-throw attempts. He has already gotten to the line 56 times this season after attempting only 55 all of last year. And Bohannon is taking advantage once he gets there, having made 20 free throws in a row.
The Hawkeyes, facing their first ranked team this season, will be helped by a sellout crowd. That is no doubt based on the quality of the opponent, but probably moreso because the team will be honoring former star Chris Street on the 25th anniversary of his death. Fans are asked to wear white.
Last season, Iowa refused to back down from a 19th-ranked Purdue squad at home, erasing a nine-point halftime deficit to win 83-78. The lasting image of that game was Hawkeye freshman center Ryan Kriener tussling with Purdue’s 7-2, 290-pound Isaac Haas.
The Hawkeyes haven’t forgotten that moment. They’ll need every bit of that grit to contend with Haas and Co. again.
The Hawkeyes got the best of Purdue and massive center Isaac Haas a year ago. Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
“I think we’re just looking forward to the energy in the building. When the fans are into it, that’s always fun,” said forward Tyler Cook, Iowa’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game.
“I don’t depend on them. But obviously when they bring energy it makes it somewhat easier to really stay engaged and it definitely helps guys stay in the game.”
Hawkeye sophomore Cordell Pemsl plans to be one of them.
“They’ve got (scoring) threats all over the court and if we’re not locked in mentally, things could get wild,” Pemsl said.
“We all know what Isaac Haas brings to the table, and I think we have enough guys that are going to be able to make him work.”