By Pat Harty
MADISON, Wis. – Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this one any better.
And you can thank Jordan Bohannon for his guts, his short memory and his incredible accuracy because it took all three to make it happen.
Iowa’s freshman point guard made what proved to be the game-winning 3-point basket with 9.7 seconds remaining as the surging Hawkeyes stormed back to defeat Wisconsin 59-57 on Thursday at the Kohl Center.
Bohannon's basket came at the expense of the team he cheered for while growing up in Marion as the younger brother of two former Wisconsin players. It also came shortly after Bohannon had fired an air ball from 3-point range on his previous shot.
“You can’t really imagine stuff like this happening,” Bohannon said. “You visualize it in your head and you think about it when you go to bed. But once you get on the court you don’t really think it’s going to happen. But everything fell into the right place.
“This was a different game for me just because of everything that has happened in the past with growing up with my brothers. But it meant a lot for this team to get this win tonight and going forward."
Iowa was in serious trouble after Zak Showalter made a 3-point basket to expand Wisconsin’s lead to 54-45 with 4:15 left to play. However, the Badgers only made one basket for the rest of game and they also missed several key free throws down the stretch and were just 5-of-14 from free throw line as a team.
"They kept fighting, but it's obviously a pretty somber locker room," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said of his team, which has lost five of its last six games. "
Bohannon was the hero for Iowa, but he also had plenty of help from his teammates, including freshman forward Cordell Pemsl, whose offensive rebound led to Bohannon’s game-winning shot.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have gotten the open look,” Bohannon said of Pemsl.
Sophomore forward Ahmad Wagner also delivered in the clutch by making a steal and a layup that trimmed the deficit to 57-56 with 1:35 remaining.
And what can you say about sophomore forward Nicholas Baer that hasn’t already been said? The former walk-on from Bettendorf stuffed the stat sheet as he often does with a team-high 14 points, including 12 in the first half. He also grabbed five rebounds and had three steals.
Iowa had a 37-27 rebounding advantage and had a stretch where it stopped the Badgers from scoring on eight consecutive possessions in the first half and on six consecutive possessions late in the second half.
“This is a team that is typically plus eight on the glass and we were plus-10 tonight,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Wisconsin. “So that’s something that makes us very proud.”
Iowa prevailed in one of the Big Ten’s most hostile environments and did so on a night when leading scorer Peter Jok was held to eight points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field. The Hawkeyes also committed 19 turnovers, but still found a way to win.
Iowa improved to 17-13 with the victory and has won three games in a row to keep alive its slim hopes of making the NCAA Tournament for the fourth year in a row.
The Hawkeyes will face Penn State in the regular-season finale on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. A victory would make Iowa one of the hottest teams heading into next week’s Big Ten Tournament.
“Right now, we’re coming off a three-game winning streak and we’ve got Penn State at home, another opportunity,” Baer said. "We're hot right now. We're ready for the NCAA Tournament and the Big Ten Tournament."
Baer and his cohorts picked up in the first half against Wisconsin where they left off against Maryland last Saturday by draining 3-pointers from all over the court. The Hawkeyes made 7-of-11 treys in the first half after making 16-of-26 3-pointers against Maryland.
Seven of Iowa’s final eight baskets in the first half were treys, including four by Baer. His final trey of the first half came just seconds before the halftime buzzer, giving Iowa a 32-25 lead at the break.
Iowa cooled off from the perimeter in the second half and that allowed Wisconsin to seize the momentum and eventually the lead.
“That one stretch got away from us a little bit,” McCaffery said. “They went up (nine) but I felt we were pretty connected defensively, which you have to be to play this team.”
It also helps to have shooters and this Iowa team has plenty.
Bohannon said “yeah, definitely” when asked if he thought his game-winner was on target.
Baer also felt confident when Bohannon shot the game-winner.
“Anytime Jordan has got space and it’s from three, I think it’s good,” Baer said. “I’m just really proud of him to be able to knock down a big shot for us.”
Even though it was a road game, Bohannon felt right at home after spending countless hours shooting with his two older brothers, Jason and Zach, in the Kohl Center.
“I’ve been here a lot growing up and working out with my brothers in the summer and being here for summer camps,” Jason Bohannon said. “I’ve been here quite a big growing up and watching from the stands.
“So I knew coming into this game that I was pretty comfortable in this environment. I knew it was going to be a really fun game. And I knew it was going to be a huge fight for us because it was a big game for us and a big game for them just like every other game in the Big Ten.”
Bohannon is supposed to say that every game in the Big Ten has equal importance. But this game was different. It was extra special because of the postseason ramifications and because of how it ended with Bohannon making the game-winning shot as his two older brothers watched from the stands.
The fact that Wisconsin didn't offer Bohannon a scholarship added to drama and to the thrill of victory. He was bypassed for a scholarship despite being so close and familiar with the Wisconsin program.
"I can't tell you how many times I've been here, a lot of weekends and week nights traveling here and seeing my brothers play, " Bohannon said. "So this game kind of meant more to me, especially since I was overlooked in the recruiting process. A lot of people doubted me, but coach McCaffery was one of the ones that believed in my abilities. So this was another game that I wanted to prove myself to everyone out there that I can do this at the Big Ten level."
He proved it in spectacular fashion.