So … that was fun!
Iowa’s bubble is very much intact as senior day went entirely according to plan. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having some nagging doubts about this game (we’re Iowa fans, after all), but it’s safe to say the Hawkeyes quashed any of those with their performance today.
The first ten minutes were a back-and-forth affair, as Iowa adjusted to Peter Jok being bench-bound after picking up two quick fouls. That all started to change around the 10-minute mark when the Hawkeyes decided to start playing defense (a novel concept, I know). Iowa capitalized on a near-7 minute scoring drought by the Nittany Lions and walked into the locker room with a 47-36 lead.
Then, Peter Jok made the second half his bitch.
Jok, who only had one first half point, put up 11 points in the first three minutes after the break. It was a hell of a showing by Jok and a fitting way for his career at Carver to come to an end.
The Hawkeyes continued to build a lead early in the second and, excepting a(n) (extremely) sloppy stretch near the end, coasted to a crucial victory.
Jok wasn’t the only Hawkeye who turned heads.
Nicholas Baer played one of the best games of his career, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and approximately a thousand hustle plays. It still baffles me that he’s only a sophomore; I’m excited to see how he develops over the next two years.
Tyler Cook also got in on the double-double party, pitching in 11 points and 10 boards of his own, as well as some generally awe-inspiring displays of skill and athleticism.
Not to be outdone by his frontcourt mates, Cordell Pemsl contributed 14 points and 6 rebounds, most coming in the first half.
The outstanding performance of the supporting cast around Jok is the single biggest reason the Hawkeyes suddenly find themselves in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
The job that Fran McCaffery has done in developing the young talent on this team over the course of the year cannot be overstated. I mean, this team lost to Nebraska-Omaha earlier (sorry for the reminder)—we’re watching a completely different Iowa team from what we saw in the first few months of the season. 10-8 in the Big Ten is never something to look down your nose at.
Now the Hawkeyes turn their attention to the Big Ten Tournament next week in D.C. Make no mistake, Iowa is still almost certainly on the outside looking in and will need to win a couple of games to sneak in, and even then we’ll all be sweating bullets on Selection Sunday.
The good news is, of course, that the conference is far from top-heavy this year and Iowa has beaten the top three teams, including two on the road very recently. The way this team is playing is there any team in the conference that they wouldn’t have a decent shot against? Not as far as I’m concerned.
So all of that to say: forget about sneaking into the tournament field as an at-large, let’s take our mark from Jake Taylor in Major League and go down to D.C. and win the whole effin’ thing.