AMES, Ia. — The Jordan Bohannon dilemma that has been hanging over the Iowa men’s basketball team all season doesn’t seem quite so pivotal now.
Yes, the senior guard is a tremendous veteran player that any team would welcome. But the Hawkeyes have been showing in recent weeks that they have the fortitude to win, even if Bohannon announces next week that his 2019-20 season is over.
“He’s a leader for us on and off the floor, so whatever he does, we’re going to be ready for it. He’s teaching those young guards how to be players at this level,” Iowa center Luka Garza said after Thursday’s 84-68 thrashing of Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum. “I think getting wins like this gives us confidence no matter what his decision is.”
The Hawkeyes’ first win here in 16 years is just the latest test of their toughness that they’ve passed en route to an 8-3 start. There have also been beatdowns of Texas Tech on a neutral court, Syracuse in the fabled Carrier Dome and Big Ten Conference rival Minnesota at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“Eleven games in, most teams haven’t played the type of teams that we’ve played,” Garza continued after scoring 21 points and hauling in 11 rebounds against the Cyclones. “So this is going to give us confidence going forward that we can beat a lot of people at a lot of different arenas.”
Bohannon had 12 points Thursday, including six consecutive free throws late. His 3-point shooting, and the nerve he shows to launch them in any environment, will be hard to replace if he decides to stop playing this season and apply for a medical redshirt because of continuing pain in his hip.
But the team around Bohannon is starting to find its footing. Sophomore point guard Connor McCaffery is a steady floor leader showing increased faith in his shot. Redshirt freshman shooting guard CJ Fredrick is a valuable asset on both ends of the court. True freshman point guard Joe Toussaint brings a never-back-down determination off the bench.
Sophomore forward Joe Wieskamp has noticed.
“Championship teams, this is the type of game that you have to win,” Wieskamp said.
“I think we’re at a good point. I think we could be undefeated. Those were three games (against DePaul, San Diego State and Michigan) that we could have and should have won. But we’re happy with the way that we’ve responded from those losses.”
Iowa has nine days between games; next is Cincinnati on Dec. 21 in Chicago. By then, we’ll know whether Bohannon will be playing. But we also now know that his absence won’t mean the end of this team’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
Big-shot Connor McCaffery? Believe it
Iowa was masterful in running out to an 18-4 lead against Iowa State. Shots were falling, and the defense was intense. The Cyclones were on their heels, and mostly stayed there.
The closest they got again was with 16:26 left, when a Solomon Young layup cut Iowa’s lead to 44-37.
That’s when McCaffery brought the ball to the right elbow. That’s when Iowa State’s Michael Jacobson backed off a little, playing the drive instead of respecting the shot. It made some sense. McCaffery was 8-for-26 from the arc entering play.
McCaffery drilled this one, though, then retreated downcourt waggling three fingers by his side. In a game in which an assortment of Hawkeyes stepped up to hit big shots, this was the biggest. And maybe the most unexpected.
“I’m not going to hunt shots,” McCaffery said. “But in that type of situation I was open, stepped up, banged it.”
McCaffery, the son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, played for Iowa City West in high school. There were some plays there designed for him, he said, but not many. None of his father’s offense is designed to get shots for him, he said with a slight smile.
That means he needs to be prudent about when to call his own number. This was an example. Connor McCaffery leads the Hawkeyes with 43 assists. But he’s also scored in double figures four times this season after averaging 4.5 last year.
“If I like the matchup, if I’ve noticed that they’re playing me a certain way, I’ll wait, I’ll feel it out and that’s when I’ll go,” McCaffery said.
He noted that he might have to become more aggressive about that going forward.
That’s true especially if Bohannon is no longer an option. McCaffery is showing that he can.
Hawkeyes run gameplan to near-perfection
Iowa wanted to limit Cyclone star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, but so does everyone. Good luck with that. Haliburton didn’t score until 11 minutes into Thursday’s game, then finished with 22 points.
But the rest of the gameplan worked out as well as the Hawkeyes could have hoped.
That included not allowing Cyclone wing players Rasir Bolton and Prentiss Nixon to get going. They combined for 5-for- 21 shooting.
It meant winning the rebounding battle, which Iowa did 42-37.
It was incumbent to limit any Cyclone scoring runs, which Iowa did.
Iowa State made only 29 of 69 shots (42%) and was 6-for-26 from 3-point range (23%). That was on the heels of the Hawkeyes holding the Gophers to 37% shooting, and 24% from 3, in a 72-52 win.
“I think you see our defensive intensity sticking through for more and more minutes every time we come out,” Connor McCaffery said. “That’s something we’re going to continue to work on. The more defense that we can play throughout the game, the better we’re going to be.
"Because we’re going to score. We’re going to score on anybody.”
Garza becoming unstoppable
Garza has topped the 20-point mark seven times this season. That includes in each of the past four games, all against major-conference competition. He’s shown he can do it against double-teams. He’s shown he can overcome slow starts. He’s shown he can get to the free-throw line when he needs to (41-for-61) or step out to the arc when that’s required (11-for-26).
This is the mentality of a professional player. Whatever it takes to be productive, Garza can do.
On Thursday, he was active on the offensive glass early, beating double-teams, and had 13 points. In the second half, the Cyclones were intent on pushing Garza farther from the low block. He started passing more, coming up with a season-high three assists. Then he found a way to work his way inside to score an additional eight points.
“I think that’s just going into every game reading and attacking. I know I’m going to get my touches and my looks,” said Garza, a 6-foot-11 junior center averaging 22.5 points per game.
“I think especially in my transition running, (the Cyclones) definitely were looking at that. Because I’ve been burying guys deep. They were trying to check me almost at the free-throw line, 3-point line, before I could get into the paint. I’ve got to adjust to that and figure out what I have to do to still get it down there where I want it.”
Garza did that. He always seems to find a way this season.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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