Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball checked all the boxes against Illinois Thursday

Hawkeyes had 16 assists and 1 turnover in forceful, precise second half

Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) looks for a shot under pressure from Iowa's Joe Wieskamp (10) and Tyler Cook (25) during the Hawkeyes' 83-62 Big Ten men's basketball tournament win over the Illini Thursday night at the United Center in Chicago. (Cliff Jette /The Gazette)
Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) looks for a shot under pressure from Iowa's Joe Wieskamp (10) and Tyler Cook (25) during the Hawkeyes' 83-62 Big Ten men's basketball tournament win over the Illini Thursday night at the United Center in Chicago. (Cliff Jette /The Gazette)

CHICAGO — The Iowa men’s basketball team had to wake up Thursday morning focused on what was in front of them, not what they had accomplished the night before.

If they can do a lot Friday in the United Center that resembles what they did Thursday evening, though, they can give themselves a chance to play here again Saturday.

It’s full-focus ahead on Friday's 8:30 p.m. game against 11th-ranked Michigan, a 26-5 crew here to defend its tourney title. In addition, the Wolverines will want some payback for the 74-59 loss they absorbed from Iowa on Feb. 1 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That’s Michigan’s worst defeat of the season.

But Iowa’s players shouldn’t forget their 83-62 mauling of Illinois Thursday altogether. It featured so much goodness, starting with they banished their four-game losing streak and did nothing to let the Illini back in the game in the second half the way Nebraska powered back from a 16-point hole to beat the Hawkeyes in Lincoln last Sunday.

A lot of boxes were checked in Thursday’s game. Focus, desire, energy? Yes, yes and yes. A 12-of-23 night from 3-point range after going just 29.8 percent from behind the arc over the previous five games? Uh huh.

Then there’s this set of beauties from a second half in which the Hawkeyes outscored the Illini, 46-31:

“We had 16 assists and one turnover on 18 buckets,” said Iowa freshman guard Connor McCaffery, who tied his career-high with eight assists.

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Yes, again. After halftime, the Hawkeyes moved the ball in all the right places, and reestablished a low-post game that had seemed to be on holiday of late.

Jordan Bohannon had five assists for Iowa. And power forward Tyler Cook matched his personal-high with six.

Instead of driving a bit recklessly as Cook had done too much in recent games, he went to the basket when the shots were there and passed the ball to the right teammates in the right spots when they weren’t.

“Especially in transition, I had guys wide open,” Cook said. “I’ve got to give them credit. They made shots tonight.”

Cook had the fanciest basket of the game, a one-handed dunk off an inbounds pass from Bohannon. Teammate Ryan Kriener said he ranked it the seventh-best dunk he’s seen Cook make, but he was counting all those he’s seen in Iowa’s practices, too.

The sequence that perhaps defined the game best was Cook feeding Nicholas Baer for a 3-pointer and a 61-45 Iowa lead with 10:49 left, and Baer finding Cook for an easy basket on the Hawkeyes’ next possession.

Baer was dynamite. He made 5 of 6 3s for a game-high 17 points.

“He’s everything you can ask for in a teammate,” said Cook.

“He does his job, and everybody else’s job when they’re not doing it.”

I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms after conference tourney and NCAA tournament games. Thursday night was the first time I’ve seen a player showered and in street clothes by the time the reporters got there. Baer was, wearing a snappy gray ensemble, jacket, shirt, pants and tie.

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“My mom never waited around for me,” he said. “She always said ‘Hustle up.’ ”

Her son and his teammates totally out-hustled Illinois Thursday. The assignment gets considerably harder Friday against a stellar Michigan club, but it will be attempted with good vibes that hadn’t been around for a couple weeks.

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