By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – What had all the signs of being one of the worst losses of the season for the 20th-ranked Iowa men's basketball team suddenly turned into its greatest comeback of the season against Northwestern on Sunday
Trailing by double figures late in the second half, Iowa mounted a spirited comeback that was capped by Jordan Bohannon’s game-winning 3-point basket with .6 seconds remaining that lifted the Hawkeyes to an improbable 80-79 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Bohannon didn’t score his first points until there were less than six minutes to play in the second half, but he still finished with 15 points, including the dramatic game-winning three.
It was similar to this past Thursday when Bohannon scored Iowa’s final 11 points during a 77-72 victory at Indiana.
"Anytime we have a shot like that, or an opportunity like that, I want the ball in my hands," Bohannon said.
The Hawkeyes improved to 19-5 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten, while also completing a season sweep against the Wildcats, who fell to 12-11 overall and 3-9 in the Big Ten.
Iowa also prevailed in a game in which starting center Luka Garza was plagued by foul problems and was held scoreless for the first time this season.
"Weird game, first off," Bohannon said. "That was really a bizzare game. But that's what it's going to take on a night-to-night basis for us to pull out games. We said we weren't going down without a fight and we did a really good job of that.
"We were down 15 with five minutes to go and that's probably something we would have done the last couple of years, but we stayed connected and we sped them up off the press and got them sideways and go some huge turnovers."
Northwestern coach Chris Collins also credited Iowa's press for helping to shift the momentum.
"Obviously, we got a little sped up against the press and had some uncharacteristic turnovers and missed a couple free throws," Collins said. "Iowa capitalized . They made some big shots."
Center Dereck Pardon made a basket to give Northwestern a 72-57 lead with less than five minutes to play, and that is when some fans started heading for the exits.
Unfortunately, for them, they missed an incredible comeback by an Iowa team that refused to quit on a night when its performance left much to be desired.
Freshman Joe Wieskamp led Iowa in scoring with 21 points, including a key 3-point basket that came during the comeback. The Muscatine native played over 32 minutes despite suffering from back pain.
"We just stayed the course," Wieskamp said. "We executed real well late game."
Junior forward Tyler Cook scored 19 points, including 15 in the second half.
"Sigh of relief, really," Cook said when asked what occurred in the lockerroom after the game. 'Because we knew that (Northwestern) played well enough to win that game. We knew that we executed well coming down the stretch. But at the same time, in this league, when you get down 15 with four to go or something like that, your chances are slim.
"So we knew we kind of got away with one. But like I said,I give a lot of credit to our guys for executing down the stretch."
Junior guard Isaiah Moss also played a huge role in Sunday's vicory by scoring 16 points after having failed to score in each of the past two games. Moss also made a basket that cut the deficit to 78-77 in the closing seconds.
It's an incredible feeling in that lockerrom," Fran McCaffery said. "The sense of accomplishment is a little different when you win one like that, when you stay together and you stay connected, you just keep fighting. That's always as a coach what you want your guys to do."
The only bad news to come from Sunday's dramatic comeback is that senior forward Nicholas Baer suffered what appeared to be a head injury in the second half. He didn't return to the game and more will be known about his status on Monday.
What could be an encouraging sign is that Iowa basketball posted a photo of the team celebrating in the lockerroom afterwards on Twitter and Baer was part of the celebration.
Fran McCaffery often says that there are no easy games in the Big Ten and that point was made abundantly clear on Sunday by the pesky Wildcats, who entered Sunday’s game with a three-game losing streak, and with a 3-8 mark in conference play..
Iowa’s performance on defense left much to be desired in Sunday’s game, but its offense wasn’t much better, until the final minutes.
Bohannon had struggled to the point where he even missed a layup late in the second half when Iowa was trying to mount a comeback
"What layup?" Bohannon said when asked about it afterwards. "I don't want to talk about that one."
But just like his team, Bohannon refused to quit and he ultimately found his touch and came through in the clutch once again.
Bohannon was grateful that his head coach for stuck with him despite his struggles during the first half and for part of the second half.
"I just feel real comfortable towards the end of games," Bohannon said. "When you have a coach like coach McCaffery that gives the ultimate green light to you and gives you the extreme confidence to be able to hit shots down the stretch.
"It would have been real easy for him to sit me for the rest of the game with how I was playing. But like I said, he's really confident in me. And we were really confident that we were going to pull this off and that's what we did."
Sunday's victory capped a memorable week for Bohannon, who also was featured on the Big Ten Network, along with his family.
"That's cool to have that happen to me," Bohannon said.
The Iowa players now have nearly a week to come down from Sunday's victory and to prepare for next Saturday's game at Rutgers.
A victory would give Iowa 20 wins for the fifth time in nine seasons under McCaffery.
Isaiah Moss scored his first points in three games on a layup that came less one minute into Sunday’s game. He also made a 3-point basket that gave Iowa a 9-7 lead with 16:07 left in the first half.
The Wildcats led for most of the first, however, and took a 41-35 advantage into the break, thanks largely to Vic Law, who scored 19 points in the first half.
Northwestern made seven 3-point baskets in the first half, including four by Law, who entered Sunday’s game having made just 12-of-50 treys against Big Ten competition.
Wieskamp led Iowa with 12 points in the first half, followed by Cook with eight points and Moss with seven.
Iowa was fortunate to only trail by six points at halftime, considering that Garza and Bohannon both were held scoreless and only attempted two shots apiece during the first 20 minutes.
The Wildcats also dominated the glass in the first half with a 21-10 advantage, including 6-1 on the offensive glass.
Iowa can score points in a hurry, as can Bohannon and Garza, so there was certainly no reason to panic at halftime.
But it was clear in the first half that Northwestern came to play and that its 3-8 record in conference play was misleading, at least it was on Sunday.