IOWA CITY, Iowa – Peter Jok used the word crafty to describe the way in which his teammate Nicholas Baer plays basketball.
But for opponents, lethal might be a better word to describe Baer’s rapidly expanding game.
The 6-foot-7 freshman forward scored in double figures for the second consecutive game while helping Iowa defeat Tennessee Tech 85-63 on Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the final non-conference game of the season.
“Nobody really knows him yet, so when we’re out there they focus on the starters pretty much and he just comes in a does what he has to do,” Jok said of Baer, who redshirted last season as a true freshman after joining the program as a walk-on. “I’m glad he’s playing with us.
“He stepped on Saturday, which we really needed. I love his game. And he plays hard all the time.”
Jok was referring to Baer’s stat-stuffing performance against Drake last Saturday in the Big Four Classic when Baer scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had six of Iowa’s school record 14 blocks during a 70-64 victory.
Baer was highly efficient in each of the last two games, including making 8-of-10 field goal attempts against Tennessee Tech on Tuesday. He also grabbed five rebounds, had two steals and one block in 23 minutes off the bench.
“He does what he does,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Baer, who is from Bettendorf. “He scores inside. He can hit threes. He moves the ball. He understand how to play. He’s a terrific player.
“There’s no other way I can say it. He has a complete game. He’s going to impact the game when he is on the floor.”
What Baer doesn’t have at this stage is a scholarship, although, McCaffery said after the Drake game that he expects Baer to be put on scholarship sooner than later.
“That’s not really a concern right now,” Baer said of being put on scholarship. “Nothing is going to change in the immediate future. So that’s not a conversation that I think I’m going to be having anytime soon.
“But maybe when the season ends. But right now, we’re just focused on the next game.”
Iowa’s next game will be a major step up in competition with top-ranked Michigan State coming to Iowa City for the Big Ten opener next Tuesday. The Hawkeyes closed the non-conference part of the schedule with a 9-3 record.
“We’re pretty confident,” said Iowa senior guard Anthony Clemmons. “The way we went out, I think we handled business and we got better today.
“We also had fun with it, too. So I think we’re pretty confident. I think our coaching staff is pretty confident in us.”
Iowa started slowly on offense against Tennessee Tech, missing its first nine shots from 3-point range.
The perimeter shots eventually started falling, though, thanks largely to Jok who made five of Iowa’s 11 3-point baskets, including three in the first half when the Hawkeyes began to pull away.
Iowa led 43-21 at halftime and by as many as 28 points in the second half.
“We moved the ball, we were open, we had good shooters shooting good shots,” McCaffery said of his team’s early shooting woes. “The key in that situation is you have to keep defending.
“Sometimes, you miss all those shots that normally go in and they next thing you know you’re down 15-5 and it’s a different kind of game. I thought our defense was spectacular in the first half.”
Senior point guard Mike Gesell was held to just two points for the fourth game this season. But he compensated by getting his teammates involved with 10 assists.
“He could have had more because he was loading people up,” McCaffery said of Gesell.
Jok led four Iowa players in double figures on Tuesday with 21 points. Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff scored 13 points and Clemmons chipped in with 11.
The 6-foot-9 Uthoff has scored in double figures in every game this season.
“I think we came in with the right mindset from the get-go,” Uthoff said. “We got on them right from the start and had a good game.”
Uthoff believes that Iowa’s non-conference schedule has prepared the team for conference play.
“If you look at our non-conference schedule, we’ve had a tough one,” Uthoff said. “We played a lot of good teams and we’re more than ready for the Big Ten to start.”
Baer’s sudden emergence has helped to fuel Uthoff’s confidence.
“He’s playing really well and it’s fantastic for our team,” Uthoff said. “The energy that he brings off the bench is fantastic.”
Baer received a loud ovation from the fans when he left the game for the final team late in the second half.
"As a player, you always like to hear that," Baer said. "But it’s on to the next one. We’ve got Michigan State coming up. So I’m excited for that."