IOWA CITY — When you’re playing the 13th best team in the Big Ten at home in your own building, you really don’t expect it to be a challenging day.
But it was.
The Iowa basketball team ran into Northwestern on a day when the Wildcats played their best offensive basketball of the season, but the Hawkeyes still managed to somehow survive and come away with an 80-79 victory. They overcame a 15-point deficit in the final 4 ½ minutes Sunday with Jordan Bohannon drilling a 3-point field goal with 0:00.6 remaining to win it.
It really couldn’t have turned out any better. The Hawkeyes probably benefited more from a tense, nailbiting, down-to-the-final-second escape than if they had hammered the Wildcats by 30 points.
They added to their depth of experience without subtracting from their won-loss record. They bolstered their confidence in difficult situations without damaging their NCAA Tournament resume.
“It can do a lot,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery admitted when it was over. “It gets everybody believing in each other. You're not going to play a perfect game. You can still win when you're a little sideways defensively in the first half, a little sideways offensively in the second half.’’
This is what good teams do: They find a way to win even on days when they’re not at their absolute best.
“It's an incredible feeling in that locker room,’’ McCaffery added. “The sense of accomplishment is a little different when you win one like that, when you stay together, you stay connected, you just keep fighting. That's always, as a coach, what you want your guys to do.’’
The highlights of the comeback obviously were the offensive heroics of Bohannon, who made three 3-pointers in the final three minutes, and Joe Wieskamp, who scored five of his team-high 21 points in those final tense moments.
But the Hawkeyes really won the game as much with what they did defensively at the end of the contest. Their ¾-court press had Northwestern completely flustered and out of sync after the Wildcats had their best shooting day of the entire season.
“It was huge,’’ Wieskamp said of the win. “Just executing late game like that is going to help us a lot come March.’’
Bohannon’s best: Bohannon could have been named Big Ten player of the week in a lot of weeks. It just happened he did what he did in the same week that Illinois center Giorgi Bezhanishvili set the Illini’s freshman scoring record with 35 points against Rutgers.
Still, it might have been the best week of Bohannon’s three-year career. He scored 25 points Thursday against Indiana and 15 (all in the last six minutes) against Northwestern.
Of the 40 points he scored in the two games, 34 came in the second half and 24 came in the final 3½ minutes. He had eight points in the last minute to close out the Hoosiers and launched his game-winning 3 against Northwestern with the same aplomb that he would a practice shot in the North Gym.
“Ice in my veins, right?’’ Bohannon said with a smile. “I just feel really comfortable toward the end of games. You have a coach like Coach McCaffery, who gives you the green light, who gives you the supreme confidence to hit shots like that down the stretch.
“It would have been real easy for him to sit me the rest of the game because of the way I was playing. But he’s really confident in me and really confident in everyone out there that we can pull this off.’’
Teammate Tyler Cook said Bohannon has a rare ability to treat tense, late-game situations like any other moment in any other game.
“I think his composure and the way he can kind of calm himself and everything around him in his mind allows him to make those big plays down the stretch,’’ Cook said. “He doesn’t think of it as any kind of big-time moment. He just kind of shot the ball like he was shooting any other ball.’’
Welcome break: Wieskamp has been nursing a sore back and spent a lot of time on an exercise bike when he was out of the game Sunday in an effort to stay loose.
“It took everything I had to finish out that game but I’m glad that I did,’’ he said. “Just very happy to get the win. I’ll definitely be in here getting a lot of treatment this week.’’
He admitted he was glad the Hawkeyes don’t play again until Saturday at Rutgers.
“It’s going to help me a lot,’’ he said. “Like I said, a lot of treatment this week, a lot of rest, recovery, a lot of things I can do to get ready for Rutgers.’’
Moving up: Overlooked in the hoopla over his game-winning shot was the fact that Bohannon's final 3 tied him with Matt Gatens for second on Iowa’s career 3-point field goal list.
Both have 239. It’s just a matter of time before Bohannon surpasses Jeff Horner’s all-time record of 262.
Moving down: Despite winning two games last week to push their record to 19-5, 8-5 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes actually dropped one spot in the Associated Press Top 25. The same six Big Ten teams remained in the poll: Michigan sixth, Michigan State 11th, Purdue 12th, Wisconsin 20th, Iowa 21st and Maryland 24th.
Illini week: As mentioned, Bezhanishvili was named the Big Ten player of the week after his epic performance against Rutgers. He also scored 16 points in an upset of Michigan State earlier in the week.
Illinois swept the weekly awards as Ayo Dosunmu was named the freshman of the week.