Associated Press, December 17, 2016

(AP) Iowa, left for dead just two weeks ago, has found some life by figuring out to how play defense.


Peter Jok scored 21 points in his final game in his hometown and the Hawkeyes thumped rival Northern Iowa 69-46 Saturday for its third straight win.

Nicholas Baer had 11 points with 11 rebounds off the bench for the Hawkeyes (6-5), who jumped all over the slightly favored Panthers early and never let up. Iowa led 34-16 at halftime after a 16-3 run, and it pushed that lead to as much as 27 early in the second half.

The win was Iowa's biggest over Northern Iowa (5-5) since it beat the Panthers by 32 in 2000 – long before the Panthers improved so much that Iowa and Iowa State scrapped their home-and-home series with them for an annual doubleheader on a neutral floor.

"I just feel like we bought into (defense)," Jok said. "We just keep talking and our chemistry has been good."

Jeremy Morgan scored 14 points and added nine rebounds for Northern Iowa, which shot just 27 percent. Morgan was 4 of 13 from the floor.

"When those shots aren't falling, we've got to have a different level of toughness," Morgan said.


Iowa: Iowa again looked nothing like the team that lost to Nebraska-Omaha 98-89 on Dec. 3. It harassed Northern Iowa's shooters out of their comfort zone, clogged up passing lanes and turned many of UNI's bricks into transition opportunities – which isn't what the Panthers want to do. If Iowa can continue to play like it has the last three games while incorporating talented freshman Tyler Cook back into the lineup, the impending Big Ten season won't look so foreboding.

Northern Iowa: Granted, Iowa's defense had a lot to do with it, but the Panthers took some awful shots early, and the Hawkeyes put them in a hole they couldn't dig out of. Northern Iowa missed the shots it should have missed and many of the ones it shouldn't have. The Panthers will almost certainly have to win the Missouri Valley tournament to return to the NCAA Tournament.


Iowa freshman Cordell Pemsl continued his torrid shooting stretch, hitting all four of his shots. He had 10 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. … Iowa owned the boards as well, with a 43-29 advantage. … Spencer Haldeman had 12 points and Wyatt Lohaus scored 10 for Northern Iowa. … The Hawkeyes got 34 points from their bench. … This was Northern Iowa's second game scoring fewer than 50 points. Xavier beat the Panthers 64-42 last month.


Cook (broken finger) might play in Tuesday's game against North Dakota. He is averaging 13.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. McCaffery will need to find ways to use Cook without disrupting his team's momentum moving forward.


"Baer is just such a special player. Every time he's on the bench I'm thinking of how I can get him back in. He has an incredible ability to come off the bench and impact right away," McCaffery said.


Iowa: Hosts North Dakota on Tuesday and Delaware State two days later to close out nonconference play.

Northern Iowa: Has a big one on Wednesday at No. 7 North Carolina. Don't expect the Tar Heels to overlook the Panthers after losing to them as the top-ranked team in the country last season.