IOWA CITY, Ia. – In a five-minute flurry Tuesday night, Iowa showed why it has the firepower required to make a lot of noise in the Big Ten Conference season that’s about to begin.
The Hawkeyes overwhelmed visiting Tennessee Tech by scoring 23 points in a span of 5:18 and rolling, 85-63, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to cap their nonconference campaign with a 9-3 record.
Up next after a few days off for Christmas: No. 1 Michigan State at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 – quite the opening act for a daunting 18-game league schedule spanning just over two months. Four days later, the Hawkeyes travel to No. 14 Purdue.
"No breaks," guard Anthony Clemmons said. "Say hi to my family, then get back to work."
If the Hawkeyes are going to upend the Spartans and/or do further damage in January, February and March, the hot shooting of Peter Jok would be welcomed.
The junior guard showed some of his best basketball in stretches against the Golden Eagles (8-5), pouring in 21 points three days after scoring a season-low four on 2-for-10 shooting against Drake.
“He can get it going in a hurry," said point guard Mike Gesell, who attempted only three shots after scoring 17 points against Drake and finished with 10 assists. "When he’s going like that, I’m just looking to try to load him up.”
Jok swished three 3-pointers during Iowa’s 23-point first-half binge that took just 11 rapid-fire possessions and extended the lead to an essentially insurmountable 43-20. He popped in another pair of 3s to start the second half, and Iowa led 51-24 with 17:42 to play.
The Jok streak started after coach Fran McCaffery got into his ear during a first-half timeout.
"I thought he was a little sloppy early. And I jumped him. I yanked him," McCaffery said. "I put him right back in, and he just took the game over. And that's the Peter Jok we need to see."
The Iowa coach reacts to an 85-63 victory that wasn't that close. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Assistants Andrew Francis and Sherm Dillard each came over to Jok to keep his emotions in check after the benching, which lasted only three minutes.
“He just wanted me to pick it up,” Jok said of McCaffery. “I just used it as motivation.
“They were running plays for me, and my teammates kept finding me. All I had to do was keep shooting.”
Also encouraging for Iowa: Walk-on Nicholas Baer, the unlikely hero of Saturday’s Drake win at the Big Four Classic, continued his hot play. With Iowa struggling to find rhythm early and trailing 10-6, Baer looped in a pair of hook shots to get things started.
The redshirt freshman finished with a career-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He got a nice round of applause from what remained of the announced crowd of 14,432 when he departed for good with under 2 minutes to go.
“I was warmed by it. It was really, really nice," Baer said. "But I just try to go out there and play as hard as I can every day, and I’m glad the fans appreciate it.”
The walk-on from Bettendorf scored a career high 19 points vs. Tennessee Tech. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
In his 22 minutes, Hawkeye leading scorer Jarrod Uthoff was scored at plus-31 – the team point differential when he was on the floor – and finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
When Jok is hitting shots like he was Tuesday, Uthoff doesn't need to be out-of-this-world great.
“It’s huge. Momentum, putting points on the board that quick," Uthoff said. "You get a lot of separation on the other team. I can’t talk about Pete enough, what he brings to the team.
“He’s one of the best shooters I’ve been around. He gets it going in practice, you can have a hand in his face, it won’t matter. He’s just cash.”
The Iowa senior leads the 9-3 Hawkeyes in scoring.
Clemmons says the Hawkeyes are confident entering Big Ten play. And they should be: They're three failed finishes away from being 12-0, and they're averaging 9.5 made 3-pointers a game after another 11 Tuesday – a huge outside-shooting upgrade over last year's team that finished tied for third in the Big Ten.
“It’s probably the best shooting team we’ve had since I’ve been here," fourth-year starter Gesell said, adding: "We’ve got the pieces to make a run. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and stay in the now and try not to think too far ahead.”
The head coach likes where this top-35 RPI team is headed, too, especially with the emergence of Baer, Dom Uhl, Brady Ellingson and Ahmad Wagner off the bench. Not to mention just seven total turnovers in the last two games.
"We're taking care of the ball. I think our shot selection's good, our ball movement is good," McCaffery said. "We've got a lot of different guys producing. I think that, ultimately, I feel pretty good."