The Breakdown: Hawkeyes’ Stingy Defense Silences No. 16 Ohio St.
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nobody invested in Iowa basketball enjoyed last season. It sucked.
Perhaps we’re seeing the payoff. A veteran Hawkeye outfit appears to be gelling before our eyes.
Iowa knocked off No. 16 Ohio State, 72-62, Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in front of an announced crowd of 14,528 excited fans. It represented its third win in a row, evening its Big Ten record at 3-3 and raising its overall mark to 14-3, matching last year’s win total.
The Hawkeyes’ defense was the worst in the conference last year, allowing 83.1 points in league play. They allowed 63 in a win at Northwestern on Wednesday and came back with a better effort in yielding just 62 Saturday.
“It wasn’t fun last year,” junior Jordan Bohannon said Saturday. “That was one of the most miserable seasons Iowa basketball has been through for a while. Knowing the talent we had and what we were capable of doing, but it just wasn’t there. Something just wasn’t clicking.
“This year, it’s starting to click.”
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Bohannon pointed out that he and his teammates are reading each other better on defense. They’re anticipating what each other is doing and a step ahead of the opposition. It’s happening because of hard work and maturity.
Coach Fran McCaffery and his coaching staff are teaching multiple defenses. They switch them up throughout the game after practicing them time and again. That’s much easier to accomplish with a seasoned group.
“I just think having older guys and another year in Fran’s system. They have always had good size, but they are a little bit bigger and longer right now than how they have been,” said Ohio State Chris Holtmann, who indicated this week that Iowa’s ability to change up defenses made it tough to prepare for it.
The Buckeyes (12-4, 2-3) shot 22 of 59 (37.3 percent) from the floor. In sweeping a pair of games against Iowa last season, they knocked down over 50 percent of their attempts in both contests.
The Hawkeyes’ stingy defense Saturday started with slowing down big-bodied Ohio State sophomore Kaleb Wesson. Centers Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener helped put him in early foul trouble. He ended up with two points, more than 15 below his season average. It looked like a repeat performance of what they did Wednesday against Northwestern’s productive post, Dererk Pardon.
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“With Pardon and Wesson, we really emphasized on denying the ball before the catch because they’re such dominant scorers when they have it,” Kriener said.
Iowa really locked in through the first 35 minutes of the game. Ohio State scored just 26 points in the first half and didn’t reach 50 until there were less than four minutes left in regulation. The Buckeyes turned it over a season-high 21 times.
An active and aggressive defense was needed. The Hawkeyes struggled with shooting and turnovers, scoring just 24 points before the intermission. Had that happened last year, would they have pulled it out.
“Nope. Nope. No more explanation needed,” Bohannon said with a smile.
The offense came around during the second half with Bohannon running the show. The home team shot 15 of 27 (55.6 percent) after the break. Bohannon matched his season high with eight assists (Pitt) against just two turnovers.
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“My shot wasn’t falling tonight but I thought I did a pretty good job of pushing it in transition and finding open guys when we needed baskets,” he said.
Bohannon reached the 1,000-point career scoring mark with a free throw late in Saturday’s game. His six points gave him 1,001 as a Hawkeye. He’s was the 48th player in program history to reach the milestone.
Garza benefitted from Bohannon’s playmaking, scoring a game-high 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the floor. Junior forward Tyler Cook added 15 points and pulled down a game-high eight rebounds before leaving late with an ankle sprain. The severity of the injury was not known, but at least one teammate felt confident Iowa’s leading scorer and rebounder would be OK for Wednesday’s game at Penn State.
“We always make fun of him. He was made in a lab. He doesn’t get hurt. You just push on with him. He’ll be fine,” Bohannon said.
Freshman Joe Wieskamp enjoyed another well-played, all-around game, scoring 10 points and snagging seven rebounds. Kriener chipped in with 11 points and Isaiah Moss netted nine. Nicholas Baer contributed four points, five rebounds and three assists off the bench for the winners.
The Hawkeyes enjoyed a 36-18 bulge on points in the paint and matched a season high with 11 steals (Pitt).
Iowa plays Illinois at home next weekend following Wednesday’s trip to Penn State. Those teams are both 0-5 in conference play. If the Hawkeyes remain dedicated to defense, they could experience their first five-game conference winning streak since starting the 2015-16 league slate at 7-0.
“I’m proud of the guys and the maturity level that they showed (in bouncing back from an 0-3 Big Ten start), but we’re not there yet. We’ve got to keep going,” McCaffery said.