Fran McCaffery tells media that Iowa's final out-of-bounds play in loss against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament is "none of your business. Period." Clark Wade/Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS — We’ve had this conversation before, but now the importance is heightened with the NCAA Tournament on deck: Where’s the help for Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff?
The 18th-ranked Hawkeyes’ search for a complementary scorer was mostly fruitless during Thursday’s stunning 68-66 loss to Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Jok and Uthoff scored 47 of Iowa’s first 52 points at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It’s no coincidence that Illinois held a 63-52 lead at that time.
Outside of that all-Big Ten duo, which combined to shoot 19-for-32, the other seven Hawkeyes who played were 6-for-30 — and that was after a 2-for-26 start.
“Everybody (else) struggled tonight,” coach Fran McCaffery said. “That was unfortunate.”
Senior guard Anthony Clemmons was particularly hard on himself. He went 0-for-8 from the floor in 28 minutes, going scoreless for just the second time this season.
Barely lifting his head and his voice sounding dejected, Clemmons vowed to come back stronger in his next game, which will be the 136th of his career.
"The shots didn’t fall. You go through games like that. Unfortunately. I didn’t want it to be this one,” Iowa’s third-leading scorer said. “It happened. I’m not going to let it happen again.”
Mike Gesell was 1-for-5, Adam Woodbury 1-for-7. The Hawkeyes did find a spark from Nicholas Baer (eight points) and Dom Uhl (three) in the closing minutes.
In Gesell’s view, the team can ride Jok and Uthoff when they’re hot as long as they play good defense.
“We just weren’t getting the stops we needed. I don’t think it ever had anything to do with offense,” he said. “Those guys were very hot. We just gave up too many open looks defensively.”
Jok’s hot-and-cold night
Peter Jok had been abysmal at the Big Ten tournament before Thursday — 1-for-9 shooting, three points total in two previous appearances. But the junior was unstoppable for a while, scoring 27 of his career-high-tying 29 points in a span of 11:22.
“I had to do what I had to do,” Jok said.
But his night was cut short after picking up a technical foul for retaliating to a shove by Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn. That was Jok's fifth personal foul, and it came with 4:02 remaining.
“He was holding me all game. Coach tried talking to the refs,” Jok said. “He just got the best of me, frustrated me.”
The Iowa junior had 29 points before fouling out vs. Illinois. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Still, Jok was surprised he fouled out for the second time in his career. He picked up his fourth foul just 15 seconds earlier.
“I didn’t know I had four fouls, I thought I had three,” Jok said. “It is what it is. The team came back and we had a chance to win.”
McCaffery was asked about the frustration of those two fouls, and side-stepped being critical of officiating or anything else.
“You have no idea how much I would like to describe my frustration,” he said. “Leave it at that.”
The surprising comeback
After Iowa was lifeless for much of the game, Nicholas Baer came out of nowhere to almost bring Iowa back.
His 3-point play chipped into Illinois’ 63-52 lead with 4:02 left, then he had a steal-and-dunk and another 3-point play to bring Iowa all the way back.
In between, Baer’s bench-mate, Dom Uhl, delivered a clutch 3-pointer after he had air-balled one earlier. That’s exactly what Iowa needs from its supporting cast going forward. It was a late positive on an otherwise glum night.
“I thought we showed great resiliency down the stretch,” Baer said “We had some big plays coming off the bench. Dom Uhl was phenomenal knocking down that 3.”
Assists record, but those turnovers
Mike Gesell’s eight assists Thursday gave him 194, a new Iowa single-season record. That tops the 193 from Andre Woolridge in the 1996 season.
Unfortunately, the accomplishment on this night took a backseat to the jarring loss and the 18 turnovers — a season-high for the Hawkeyes, who came in averaging 10.2 a game.
“Eighteen turnovers,” McCaffery said. “You can't win a tournament game turning the ball over 18 times. Can't.”