IOWA CITY — The Iowa basketball team hadn’t really had a close game all season. The narrowest margin of victory or defeat in the first 14 games was eight points.
There were no white-knucklers in there, no cliffhangers, nothing to really test their mettle.
So, you had to wonder how a team with four freshmen in the starting lineup would handle such a game, especially when they came up against a solid Big Ten team with four seniors playing extensive minutes.
You can stop wondering. The Hawkeyes handled it just fine.
Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon made a couple of big shots in overtime and Peter Jok did what battle-hardened seniors are supposed to do as Iowa clawed out an 86-83 victory over Michigan on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Jok led the way with 25 points but many of the other game-deciding plays were made by kids who were in high school a year ago at this time.
“We made enough plays,’’ said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who was more than satisfied with the way his kids delivered. “It wasn’t perfection, but we made our free throws, we executed the shots that we wanted. A couple of times we got it inside, didn’t score, but we got it in there. And our defense was clearly better in the second half.’’
Of course, this was at home, in front of a friendly audience. Performing like this on the road in the Big Ten will be a whole other chapter in their development. But it definitely was encouraging.
“I was just really proud of our team’s resolve and fight,’’ said sophomore Nicholas Baer, who had his best perimeter shooting game of the season.
“They had a couple of good runs but we responded and we kept playing our game,’’ added Bohannon, who scored 17 points, handed out six assists, did not have a turnover and drew lavish praise from Michigan coach John Beilein. “We were happy to just get the W.’’
Jok said he told his younger teammates to just treat the overtime like any other stage of the game and not to overthink things.
Bohannon scored the first five points of the overtime, on a drive to the hoop and a 3-point field goal, and Jok scored the last five to help the Hawkeyes even their Big Ten record at 1-1.
The score was tied at 81-81 after Michigan’s Derrick Walton scored on a fast-break layup, but Jok finally put Iowa ahead with a 3-pointer with a minute, 16 seconds left in the extra period.
Sophomore D.J. Wilson, who had a career game for Michigan, then missed a 3-pointer but Walton stole an inbounds pass and went in for a layup to make it 84-83 with 21.1 seconds remaining.
The Wolverines then were forced to foul Jok with 19.7 seconds to go and the senior made both free throws.
Wilson missed another three at the other end and even though Zak Irvin grabbed the rebound, the Wolverines were unable to get off another shot as the Hawkeyes closed down every opening around the 3-point arc.
“I wish when we got the second opportunity … somebody needs to let that thing fly there,’’ Beilein said. “We had some good looks and didn’t cash in. When they got good looks, they cashed in on them.’’
Jok not only scored 25 points, but he turned into a facilitator in the OT, assisting on baskets by Bohannon and Baer before hitting the go-ahead shot himself.
“He’s figured out he has to be a screener and he’s got to be a passer, and he can still get 25,’’ McCaffery said. “That’s what makes him special.’’
The Hawkeyes shot 47.8 percent from the field after hitting only 37.3 percent in a Big Ten-opening rout at the hands of Purdue. They were especially good from 3-point range, making 11 of 19.
“They shot the ball so well, shot it so efficiently the whole game …’’ Beilein said. “Jok and Bohannon, you just can’t let them shoot it.’’
Wilson, who never had scored more than 16 points in a game, finished with game-high totals of 28 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists. He kept the Wolverines in the game almost all by himself in the first half, scoring 19 of their first 28 points.
The Hawkeyes still had a 39-36 edge at halftime, but Irvin, Walton and Duncan Robinson finally got rolling in the second half and Michigan shot out to as much as a seven-point lead.
Iowa rallied behind Tyler Cook, Bohannon and Jok to regain the lead. Irvin, who normally is Michigan’s top scorer, nailed a three to give Michigan a 74-72 lead with 28 seconds left in regulation but Cordell Pemsl tied it with a layup with 16 seconds remaining.
Walton lost the ball out of bounds with a fraction of a second left in regulation and Bohannon’s 70-foot prayer missed at the horn, sending the game to overtime.