Luka Garza fails to score 20, but Iowa still cools down red-hot Northwestern
Jordan Bohannon breaks out of slump with six 3-point baskets and 24 points
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Facing the hottest team in the Big Ten, and doubts and scrutiny for the first time this season, the Iowa men’s basketball team responded in impressive fashion against Northwestern.
On a night when Mother Nature dominated outside, 10th-ranked Iowa had its way inside at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, defeating the Wildcats 87-72 on Tuesday, and did so with a different script.
All-America senior center Luka Garza certainly did his part with 18 points and six rebounds, but this win was more about his teammates, and that’s an encouraging sign.
Senior guard Jordan Bohannon made six 3-point baskets and scored 19 of his season-high 24 points in the second half, while sophomore guard C.J. Fredrick made three 3-point baskets and scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half.
Freshman forwards Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery also made significant contributions off the bench.
Iowa improved to a 2-1 in the Big Ten and 8-2 overall, while Northwestern fell to 6-2 and 3-1.
Northwestern had started 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1967-68 season, and that matched its win total in conference play last season.
Tuesday’s game also was the first time that both teams were ranked in the 160-game series, with Iowa ranked 10th and Northwestern 19th.
So this was a big challenge, and Iowa rose to the occasion, even without Garza scoring at least 20 points against a Big Ten opponent for the first time in 18 games.
Iowa was coming off a deflating 102-95 overtime loss at Minnesota on Christmas day this past Friday in which it blew a seven-point lead with 45 seconds left in regulation.
Iowa performed woefully on defense against the Gophers, who made 17 shots from 3-point range, including 5-of-6 attempts in overtime.
Fran McCaffery called his team’s defense against Minnesota unacceptable, so there was some pressure heading into Tuesday’s game to step up on defense.
Bohannon also might have felt some pressure heading into Tuesday’s game because it has been a struggle for him offensively.
But his performance against the Wildcats, which marked just the second time this season that he has scored in double figures, was vintage Bohannon as he made six 3-point baskets, and reminded opponents that Garza is hardly a solo act.
“He was spectacular tonight,” Fran McCaffery said of Bohannon, who had surgery on both of his hips over the past two years. “You could see it coming. He had a couple of games that wouldn’t be up to his standards. He’s as fierce a competitor I’ve been around. He challenged himself to do what he does and it was fun to watch.”
Bohannon credited Fran McCaffery for helping to restore his confidence and swagger on the court.
“Fran brought me into his office a couple days ago and was preaching what he always has since I’ve been here,” Bohannon said. “He has the most confidence in me and that’s why he recruited me; because of how I play on the court, my swag, and how much different we’re on the court when I’m like that.”
With Bohannon and Fredrick both making 3-pointers, and with Keegan Murray providing a spark off the bench, Iowa becomes so much harder to defend because teams can’t just collapse on Garza in the paint.
“I think tonight I was just trying to move the ball in the post and knew they were going to double a lot,” Garza said. “They were just trying to get it out of my hands and I’m thankful to have the shooters that I have around me, and they knocked some shots down tonight.”
Iowa performed much better on defense against Northwestern compared to Minnesota game, but now the challenge is to keep defending at that level, especially with a road game at Rutgers up next on Saturday.
Iowa becomes deeper and more versatile when Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery both play well off the bench. Murray finished with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, while Patrick McCaffery scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and had two assists, including one to Murray on a nifty back-door play.
They played for stretches in Tuesday’s game with fellow reserves Joe Toussaint and Jack Nunge, and together they helped to create a momentum shift in the first half.
“I just commended those two guys, and actually Joe and jack, that lineup I think really turned the game around with their defensive intensity,’ said Fran McCaffery, who is Patrick McCaffery’s father. “They created some offense with their defense, activity on the glass, and that’s what those guys do.
“And that’s what our team has to be, quite honestly. We’ve got a lot of guys that can contribute in different ways.”
And with Bohannon, Iowa has one of the top 3-point shooters in Big Ten history, who at any moment can get hot and carry a team offensively. He also scored 24 points and made seven 3-point baskets in a 93-80 victory over North Carolina on Dec. 8th at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
This Iowa team also some fight and pride as evidenced by what Garza said after Tuesday’s game about the Minnesota loss.
“Honestly, everybody was pissed off,” Garza said on the FS1 Post-game show. “When you have a win on the road and it just fumbles out of your hands, it’s not a good feeling.
“So it was the most angry I’ve ever been after a loss. But we just got back in the gym, we locked in and we focused on getting this one. We knew we were going to face a great team who was very hot.”