IOWA CITY — Seemingly everything has been a struggle for the Iowa basketball team this season and getting a milestone victory for head coach Fran McCaffery on Tuesday night was no different.
The Hawkeyes withstood several runs by a shorthanded but determined Minnesota team in the second half before Jordan Bohannon and friends finally delivered the knockout punch in a 94-80 victory over the Golden Gophers, giving McCaffery the 400th victory of his coaching career.
Bohannon finished with 20 points and 10 assists, and made several of the key plays that finished off Minnesota in the second half. The sophomore guard reached a milestone of his own by collecting 10 or more points and 10 or more assists in a game for the sixth time. That ties the school record held by Cal Wulfsberg.
But it was one of those rare nights when almost every had a good night for the Hawkeyes (12-12 overall, 3-8 Big Ten). They also got 17 points and 10 rebounds from Tyler Cook, 16 points from Isaiah Moss and 10 apiece from Nicholas Baer, Luka Garza and Cordell Pemsl.
Freshman Jack Nunge, who has struggled as much as anyone lately, even came off the bench to deliver two big 3-point field goals and block a couple of important shots.
“Everybody was playing well tonight,’’ Nunge said. “Isaiah couldn’t miss. Cordell was hitting the boards and finishing down low. We knew (Jordan) Murphy was in foul trouble so we tried to attack him. I think everybody was locked into the game plan and we just carried it out.’’
The Hawkeyes were almost unstoppable in rolling up 57 points in the second half, but Pemsl figured the outcome really was decided at the other end of the court.
“We’re not too focused on offense right now,’’ he said. “We have enough guys who can score ... When the ball’s moving like that, it makes it a lot easier. The biggest thing we wanted to lock into was defense and I think we did that pretty well tonight.’’
Minnesota, playing without Big Ten blocked shot leader Reggie Lynch (suspension) and No. 3 scorer Amir Coffey (shoulder injury), lost for the seventh time in the past eight games and fell to 14-10 overall, 3-8 in the Big Ten.
Murphy notched his NCAA-leading 20th double-double, finishing with 21 points and 17 rebounds. Davonte Fitzgerald added 17 points and Isaiah Washington 16, both off the bench, but star point guard Nate Mason was held to only seven points and three assists.
“It’s hard to win when your best player is 2 for 13,’’ Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “Obviously, too, we wore down.’’
That was apparent as the Hawkeyes finally shook off the Gophers in the final six minutes with an 11-2 scoring run that began with a Garza free throw. He missed the second shot but hustled to get his own rebound and pitched it to Bohannon for a 3-pointer.
A Pemsl layup off a feed from Bohannon, a Bohannon fast-break layup and a Moss 3 pushed the margin to 81-68 with 4 minutes, 25 seconds remaining.
The Hawkeyes started quickly, as they did in a lopsided home victory over Wisconsin a week ago, bolting out to an 11-1 lead, but the Golden Gophers bounced back and briefly took the lead before a Nunge 3 gave Iowa a 37-33 halftime lead.
Moss led a charge at the outset of the second half, beginning with a 3-point field goal and a lob pass to Cook for a dunk. Another Moss 3 upped the Iowa lead to 50-37, but the Gophers battled back to chop the deficit to four on three different occasions, the last time at 70-66 with 6:32 to go.
McCaffery was very pleased to get so much production from Moss, who has had an up-and-down season.
“It was great to see him be aggressive that way,’’ McCaffery said. “We’re a better team when he plays that way … The way he came back and played in the second half was really important for him and for our team.’’
McCaffery shrugged off his own milestone.
“All it does for me is remind me of the great players I’ve had and the great athletic directors I’ve worked for …’’ he said. “You don’t get 400 wins being a great coach. You get 400 wins when you have great players who are committed to one another, committed to being great.''