By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sophomore Nicholas Baer and freshman Tyler Cook posted double-doubles and senior Peter Jok caught fire in the second half to lead the University of Iowa men’s basketball team to its fourth straight win to clinch the No. 7 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.
The Hawkeyes handled Penn State on Senior Day to close out the regular season, winning 90-79 in front of a sellout crowd of 15,400 on Sunday afternoon inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It really wasn’t even that close.
Iowa led by as many as 27 points with 7:44 remaining before the Nittany Lions closed the gap during “garbage time.”
“We were moving and sharing the ball,” said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. “We had 24 assists on 31 field goals. That’s how you get five guys in double figures.”
Jok scored 20 of his team-best 21 points in the second half, including 11 points in the first 3:04 coming out of the break in his final regular-season game.
Baer did a little bit of everything, finishing with a career-high 20 points, making 7-of-10 field goals and all four 3-point attempts. He also had two assists and two steals in 23 minutes.
It was Baer’s second career double-double. Jok called Baer the heart and soul of the Hawkeyes.
“That means a lot coming from Pete,” said Baer. “I try to influence guys on this team with my hard work and playing hard and that rubs off on a lot of people. I am happy with the position we’re putting ourselves in, going into the Big Ten Tournament on a four-game winning streak, and we’re looking to continue our good play.”
Freshman Cordell Pemsl scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench, while freshmen Jordan Bohannon and Cook had 11 points apiece. Cook also grabbed 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.
The Hawkeyes shot 47.7 percent from the floor and made 12-of-21 3-point field goals. Iowa won the rebounding battle, 39-36, which included 14 offensive boards. The Hawkeyes capitalized to the tune of 27 second-chance points.
Iowa took control in the latter stages of the first half. After Shep Garner hit a 3-pointer to give the Nittany Lions a 25-24 lead, Penn State went cold. It missed its next 11 field goals and went scoreless for nearly a seven-minute stretch.
The Hawkeyes used a Brady Ellingson 3-pointer to take a 27-25 lead and Pemsl and Baer scored the next 11 points to cap off as 14-0 run that saw Iowa take a 38-25 lead with 3:37 left in the first half.
Iowa led 47-36 at the break despite getting a single point from Jok, the Big Ten’s leading scorer. The senior proceeded to do Jok things.
Jok scored 11 of Iowa’s first 13 points in the first 3:04 of the second half. He made pointer nine seconds in and hit back-to-back triples to give Iowa a 60-46 lead.
“I am happy for Pete, coming out on Senior Day,” said Baer. “He had a rough start, getting two fouls early, but that second half, he completely dominated. He was making big 3s to continue our run. I was happy for him that he was able to go out on a good note.”
Iowa opened up a 21 point lead on a Jok 3-pointer with 12:38 to play. The Hawkeyes led by as many as 27 on two Jok free throws with 7:44 left.
The Hawkeyes recognized Jok and fellow senior Dale Jones prior to the game. Jones earned his first start of the year and made a 3-pointer — his first of the season — on Iowa’s second possession.
“That was an unbelievable feeling for me,” said McCaffery. “I knew he was going to make one, he’s too good of a shooter. I thought he was going to make the last one, too, and he shot it from 40 feet.”
Iowa finishes the regular season with a season-best four-game Big Ten winning streak, finishing 18-13 overall and 10-8 in league action. The Hawkeyes now can turn their attention to next week’s action in Washington D.C. where the team can play its way to the right side of the “bubble.”
“I think we deserve to be in, but what you have to do is not focus on thinking and talking about it,” said McCaffery. “We can do what we have to do to get in.
“We have to win the next game, then win the game after that. If you win the one after that, you’re automatically in. We just have to take them one at a time and respect our next opponent.”