PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Peter Jok, just to the left of the top of the key, held his follow-through for an extra fraction of a second after swishing a his fifth 3-pointer of the game to give Iowa a 13-point lead over Rutgers.
That snapshot was symbolic of not only of the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes’ 90-76 win in their first trip to the Rutgers Athletic Center, but of the school’s first 6-0 start in Big Ten Conference play in 29 years.
This team can hurt you from anywhere on the court, especially from behind the 3-point line, and that’s what makes Fran McCaffery’s lineup so tough – even on a night that saw the Hawkeyes (15-3) play sloppily at times en route to winning their eighth straight game.
"We weren’t focused on defense tonight," said Jok, who followed up his Big Ten player-of-the-week honor with a career-high 29 points. "It was ugly, but we did what we needed to do to win.”
The weekly award winner responded with a career-high 29 points vs. Rutgers. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
If you were here Thursday, you could understand how easy it might’ve been for Iowa to sleep-walk through the game – with league heavyweights Purdue (Sunday) and Maryland (Jan. 28) on deck. On a night when at the 8,000-seat arena that was maybe half full, the Hawkeyes squelched any sliver of Rutgers momentum with 11 3-pointers against Rutgers' sagging zone on 29 attempts. It's the third straight game Iowa has hit 10 or more from long range.
“When you hit 11 3s, half of them are probably daggers," Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan conceded. "We were holding in on their bigs because we’re small. They move the ball well. When their 4 man can knock down a 3, that’s hard to guard no matter who you are.”
Jordan was referring to Big Ten scoring leader Jarrod Uthoff, who swished 4-of-6 from behind the arc and finished with 20 points to go with eight rebounds and three blocks. The 3-point marksmanship is a huge difference of last year's Hawkeye team that was more interior-based with Aaron White leading the way. Iowa is averaging 9.2 made 3s a game, compared with 5.6 a year ago.
“It’s way different than it’s been. We’ve got multiple 3-point shooters," McCaffery said. "Dom (Uhl) was off tonight. (Nicholas) Baer was off tonight. But of course Jarrod and Pete were on fire, (Anthony) Clemmons was great. You need multiple 3-point shooters so you can spread the floor and move the ball.”
The Iowa coach concedes the defense could have been better but the Hawkeyes won anyway, 90-76. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Clemmons scored 20 points, surpassing his career-high by six. He was 6-for-6 from 2-point range, 2-for-6 from 3. It was the first time Iowa had three different players score 20 in one game since Dec. 16, 2000.
The 15-3 Hawkeyes certainly weren't overjoyed about their performance against a Rutgers basketball program that was called “hopeless” by a local columnist here this week after Monday’s 50-point home loss to Purdue in which the Scarlet Knights were outrebounded by 40. But Rutgers (6-14, 0-7) scrapped on the boards in this one, and the score was 34-34 until Uthoff broke out of his shell with a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to push Iowa back ahead to stay with 2:03 left in the first half.
“I was a little bit sideways to begin with, but Pete was carrying us," Uthoff said. "Let Pete go to work when he’s hot like that.”
Iowa's star forward thought the Scarlet Knights played well. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
That's the mentality of this unselfish team, which continued its impressive ball control with 19 assists and only eight turnovers on 74 possessions. Mike Gesell didn't score while battling through a leg injury, but had nine assists; Clemmons had five.
“We did a great job sharing the ball," Jok said.
They know they need to be better when No. 22 Purdue comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Sunday's noon game.
“It was just an off night for us as a team," said center Adam Woodbury, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds. "We’ll definitely be better on Sunday.”
Iowa had a fight on its hands for a while but pulled away vs. Rutgers. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com