Ellingson leads Jok-less Iowa past Ohio State
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Peter Jok’s teammates had his back Saturday.
Iowa’s lone senior was reduced to spectator duty, temporarily pulled from action by the team’s training staff in order to let his sore back heal.
In Jok’s place, 10 Hawkeyes rose as one, showing the importance of depth and balance in running past Ohio State, 85-72, before a season-high crowd of 15,138 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Brady Ellingson stepped in to nail a career-high five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. Freshman center Ryan Kriener added 14 points to lead a remarkable effort by the second unit.
Starters Tyler Cook (13 points) and Jordan Bohannon (12) did their part as well, as Jok repeatedly stood to cheer.
The result was the end of Iowa’s three-game losing streak and perhaps a glimpse at Iowa’s future.
“A little bit more aggressive knowing that Pete was out and I had to hunt for my shot a little more. But I thought we did about as good of a job as we have all season on moving the ball and being patient on offense,” said Ellingson, a sophomore.
“I just kept moving without the ball well and teammates kept finding me. … A lot of my shots were in rhythm.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery used 10 players, and all of them scored. No one played fewer than 11 minutes or more than 29.
The bench players contributed 44 points, 19 rebounds and, perhaps most amazingly, 16 of the team’s 21 assists. The ball moved as well as it has all year. The five reserves combined to make 16 of 23 field goal attempts, led by Ellingson and Kriener. Dom Uhl had a team-high six assists. Cordell Pemsl added five while also making all three of his shots.
It was a sight that McCaffery has been longing to see.
“Tyler Cook struggled a little bit in the first half, was great in the second half, really wanted the ball, and we got him the ball,” McCaffery said.
“And so you try to scheme your defense, we’ve got all these different people scoring, makes it difficult, and that’s what you want. But it only works if you’re moving the ball and you’re sharing the ball and you put the team first, and that’s what this group does.”
Ellingson and Kriener epitomized that. Late in the first half, Ellingson fed the 6-foot-9 Kriener for a layup. Early in the second half, it was Kriener digging out offensive rebounds and finding Ellingson for 3-pointers.
Both of them had their best game of the season when Iowa (12-10, 4-5 Big Ten Conference) needed it most.
“I was just trying to play my role, play my heart out and play basketball. That’s what I’m supposed to do so that’s what I went and did,” said Kriener, who added seven rebounds. “It’s kind of force of habit. Get that offense rebound, if you don’t have it, look for the shooter right away.”
Ohio State (13-9, 3-6) led only briefly early in the game and trailed 40-29 at halftime. The Buckeyes never mounted a serious challenge.
“We didn’t guard anybody. We made it so easy. The shots they got were so open,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “We weren’t good.”
Matta said he didn’t know until game time approached that he was going to be facing a Jok-less Hawkeyes team. Jok leads the Big Ten in scoring at 21 points per game and the Iowa offense typically runs through him.
But McCaffery has said all season that he wants all of his players to aggressively seek out shots. That includes Ellingson, who has been an important sub because he is careful with the basketball and understands how to move it. But that also has meant that he’s passed up shots at times.
“We have consistently tried to get him to be more aggressive offensively,” McCaffery said of Ellingson. “He’s a very efficient person in terms of everything that he does.
“So if he’s curl-cutting, if he’s running the floor, defensively he’s always in the right place. He’s always talking and if he’s not open, he’s not going to shoot the ball. … He really made a concerted effort tonight, starting with the first one he made. He came right off, bang, and kind of set the tone that that’s what he was going to do.”
The Hawkeyes will need Ellingson to continue trying to fill Jok’s shoes. McCaffery said he’s not sure when his shooting star will return, but it’s unlikely to be in time for Iowa’s next game — at Rutgers on Tuesday.