By Jim Cotter
CHAMPAIGN, Ill.- Junior Peter Jok scored a game-high 23 points to help lead the fifth-ranked Iowa men’s basketball team to a rather routine 77-65 victory over Illinois on Sunday afternoon at the State Farm Center.
The Hawkeyes, who were very balanced in scoring, also received 18 points from Jarrod Uthoff and 10 points apiece from both Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons.
Woodbury and Uthoff also recorded double-doubles, with the 7-foot-1 Woodbury grabbing 14 rebounds and the 6-9 Uthoff snaring 12 rebounds.
Iowa has won 12 of its last 13 games and now has sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with a 10-1 conference record. Indiana suffered its second conference loss of the season on Saturday at Penn State.
Illinois got out to a quick lead, but the Hawkeyes soon answered, going on a 12-0 scoring run midway through the first half to seemingly put the game out of reach.
Illinois (11-13, 3-8) has been plagued by injuries for much of the season, and were virtually no match for the Hawkeyes, who clearly dominated on the glass, winning the rebounding battle by a 43-32 margin, their largest this season.
"They (Illinois) are a real good team, and it’s tough to get road wins in this league, so any time we can do that, it always is a good thing," said Iowa senior guard Mike Gesell.
Iowa improved to 19-4 overall and won its third consecutive game since losing at Maryland 74-68 on Jan. 28. And with the emergence of the 6-6 Jok, the Hawkeyes appear to be clicking on all cylinders.
The Hawkeyes made 26-of-65 field-goal attempts, and shot especially well from the free throw line, converting 13-of-16 attempts. Iowa also made 8-of-20 shots from 3-point range, with Jok hitting on 3-of-7 attempts and Clemmons making two of his three attempts.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery recognized the importance of his seniors and how their experience and leadership has propelled Iowa to its success this season. Iowa has four seniors in its starting lineup.
"These guys that are seniors, with the exception of Jarrod, have played together since they were freshmen, and before them, there was a another group that had played a lot, so we’re really coming together at the right time," McCaffery said of the seniors’ importance to the team.
Iowa limited the scoring duo of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn to just 14 and six points, respectively. Defense has been one of the keys in keeping Iowa on top of the Big Ten standings.
"There wasn’t an exact science in containing (Nunn) other than when you play Illinois, you need to stop the big two," McCaffery said. "But they have other weapons as well."
The win was Iowa’s second in a row over Illinois in Champaign. That hadn’t happened since 1987.
Freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands led Illinois in scoring with 17 points.
Iowa will continue on the road this coming Thursday when it faces No. 22 Indiana in Bloomington, Ind. It looks to be a pivotal game with both teams contending for the Big Ten title.
Indiana fell a game behind Iowa in the loss column by losing 68-63 at Penn State on Saturday. The Hoosiers will bring records of 19-5 overall and 9-2 in the Big Ten into Thursday’s game.