By John Bohnenkamp
Jordan Bohannon hears, but he doesn’t listen.
It can be a cacophony of discontent at times on social media when Bohannon doesn’t play well.
That’s fine, he says. He gets that, especially during this season, when Bohannon and his Iowa teammates are playing in front of a captive audience that can only watch from a distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously it’s been a crazy year for everyone,” Bohannon said on Tuesday night, after his 24-point game in Iowa’s 87-72 win over Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “I think there’s a lot of stress in a lot of households. I think the fact that we’re playing basketball is huge for people, entertainment-wise.”
So, Bohannon gets that it can be entertaining when the Hawkeyes win, irritating when they lose, although that’s only happened twice this season.
It’s a silent minority, he said, that gets loud at only the worst times.
“At the end of the day,” Bohannon said, “we realize that people do mean well.”
Bohannon has played in enough games in his five seasons with the Hawkeyes that he knows it’s best to turn down the volume on even the most cantankerous fans.
But he knows when to listen, and that’s when coach Fran McCaffery speaks.
McCaffery knows what Bohannon means to this team. He knows the big shots, the big plays, the swagger.
So that’s why McCaffery sat down with Bohannon a couple of days ago with a just-be-Jordan message.
“I think most players would appreciate that,” McCaffery said. “When you’re a fifth-year senior who has made over 300 threes he probably doesn’t need as much, but I gave it to him anyway. I had a long talk with him and just reminded him how great he is, who he is, what our team needs, and just go out and play with that kind of confidence and sort of reckless abandon, while at the same time running the show.
“So it has to be a great feeling for him right now with how he played, because he knows he’s capable of it.”
“He was preaching what he always has been since I’ve been here,” Bohannon said. “He has all of the confidence in me, and that’s why he recruited me, because of how I’ve played on the court with my swag, and how much different we are on the court when I’m like that. He really hasn’t been seeing that in this part of the season.”
Bohannon had 24 points in Tuesday’s game. He was 7-of-11 from the field, 6-of-9 in 3-pointers.
He hit a couple of threes in transition. He got five rebounds. He had five assists against one turnover, and helped harass Northwestern guard Boo Buie into a 1-of-8 shooting night and two points, just nine days after Buie scored 30 against Michigan State.
McCaffery’s speech was described as a “little nudge” by Bohannon, a push to reset a player who has done so much in his career.
Bohannon, coming off two hip surgeries in 2019, had 24 points against North Carolina earlier this month. It felt like the old days.
Then he made 10-of-37 shots in Iowa’s next five games. In the Hawkeyes’ two losses to Gonzaga and Minnesota, he was 4-of-17 from the field, 1-of-12 in 3-pointers. He had a season-high four turnovers against Gonzaga, and in the closing seconds of the second half of the Minnesota game couldn’t get away from the Gophers’ defensive hounding to get a good look at a possible game-winning shot.
“He’s a gamer,” guard CJ Fredrick said. “Everybody knows that. We have tremendous confidence in him. We want him shooting the ball.
“And you saw why tonight.”
“I think you can kind of see it coming,” McCaffery said. “He had a couple games that wouldn’t be up to his standards, and he’s a competitor, as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever been around, and he challenged himself to do what he does.
“And it was fun to watch.”
Northwestern’s loss left Michigan as the last team without a loss in the Big Ten. The Wildcats fell into a six-pack of one-loss teams that include the Hawkeyes (8-2 overall, 2-1 conference).
Northwestern’s defense held Iowa’s Luka Garza, the nation’s leading scorer, to 18 points, snapping his 18-game streak of 20 points or more against Big Ten teams. The Wildcats, like everyone else, know to throw extra bodies at Garza, and it’s a lot easier to do if Iowa’s guards are making 3-pointers.
Fredrick had three to go with the Bohannon bonanza.
“He affects your defensive game plan greatly, because he’s unstoppable one-on-one,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said of the Wildcats’ plan to consistently double-team Garza. “We knew he was going to score — he’s not going to go scoreless. But (Bohannon and Fredrick) really picked them up.”
“Early on, they were really mugging Luka,” said Fredrick, who had 19 points, 17 in the first half. “Then I started making shots, Jordan started making shots.”
Bohannon making shots is just what the Hawkeyes want.
“I know I have a lot of catching-up to do, to get my rhythm back,” he said.
Sometimes it’s best to listen to the only words that matter.
Photo: Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon reacts after a 3-pointer in Tuesday’s win over Northwestern. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)