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IOWA CITY — Iowa’s perceived lack of basketball depth that concerned so many before this season became a mirage after halftime Sunday afternoon.
The Hawkeyes and Michigan Wolverines were tied with 12 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery started subbing for his starters and featured an odd alignment to fight off Michigan’s run. Reserves Nicholas Baer, Dominique Uhl and Ahmad Wagner joined point guard Mike Gesell and Peter Jok on the floor with Gesell on the line. The result was sterling for Hawkeyes.
No 19 Iowa blazed to a 14-3 run en route to an 82-71 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes (14-3, 5-0 Big Ten) have won their first five league games for the first time in 19 seasons.
“When the game unfolds, you never know what lineup’s going to be on the floor when you make your run,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “And we had a very unique lineup.”
Gesell hit his free throws to push Iowa ahead. Michigan’s Aubrey Dawkins connected on a 3-pointer to put the Wolverines ahead 53-52. The Hawkeyes followed with points on five consecutive possessions. Uhl scored inside, followed by a Jok 3-pointer. Wagner sank a free throw and Anthony Clemmons, who replaced Gesell, drained a 3-pointer, immediately followed by another Jok 3-pointer.
But Iowa’s offense was created by its defense. Jok deflected a ball to Baer for a steal, and Jok grabbed another. Baer, Wagner and Jok had big rebounds during the sequence. All of it propelled the Hawkeyes to points.
Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff sat out for nearly seven minutes as that lineup pushed the Hawkeyes’ lead to 68-59 with 6:05 left. To McCaffery, that unit did its job.
“What was interesting is we took him out, I think there was 12:46, ‘Let’s get him out before the media (timeout) and get him right back in,’” McCaffery said. “But when that team took off, I thought, ‘You know what, it might not be bad because when I put him back in, he’ll be fresh all the way to the end of the game.’”
On his first possession back in, Uthoff drilled a 3-pointer with four seconds left on the shot clock to boost Iowa’s lead to 71-59. Michigan mounted a mini-run with three 3-pointers on its next four possessions to cut its deficit to 73-68. But like they had all game, Jok and Uthoff combined to score the game’s next seven points and put the game away.
Uthoff, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, finished with a game-high 23 points while Jok scored 16. As vital as those performances were to the result, the bench play was equally pivotal.
“I think the bench has really found their own,” Uthoff said. “They’ve been playing with a lot of energy, and they’re really find their role on the team, and they’re fulfilling their role.”
“Whenever you’ve got guys who can come off the bench and impact the game the way that they do, it gives you a good vibe, too,” Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons said.
Uhl scored 10 points off the bench and knocked down both 3-pointers. He’s hit 18 of 33 3-point attempts this year. Wagner had five points and three rebounds, and Baer scored seven points with an assist, a steal and a rebound.
“I think what has really separated them right now is their bench play,” Michigan Coach John Beilein said. “They have guys coming off the bench making plays.”
Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr. scored 16 points and dished six assists for the Wolverines (13-5, 3-2).
Iowa has won its last 11 Big Ten regular-season games, and only three were by single digits. It’s likely the Hawkeyes will soar into the top 10 in both polls. But that’s not what motivates this group.
“You’re playing teams night in and night out that can beat you,” Uthoff said. “There’s no night off in the Big Ten. If you play a team like Michigan, who’s only lost four times, they’re a real good team. They’ve got multiple 3-point shooters and ways to penetrate and kick out. You’ve got to be locked in to beat them.”
Iowa plays at Rutgers (6-12, 0-5) this Thursday.
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