CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Just over three minutes into the second half, Iowa’s Peter Jok stole the ball from Illinois guard Khalid Lewis and glided to the other end of the court for a two-handed dunk.
It was part of a 5-minute span after halftime in which the junior scored seven of the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes’ points, pushing their lead to 15 and delivering a blow the Illini wouldn’t recover from.
Jok finished with 23 points and Iowa (19-4, 10-1 Big Ten) coasted to a 77-65 victory.
Jok is playing with confidence, and doing that at both ends of the court, Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said.
“I think you’re seeing a much more complete player,” McCaffery said. “You’re watching a guy who, when he was young, made some mistakes. And he’s not doing that anymore.”
Jok said Iowa, whose only serious tests Sunday came in the game’s opening minutes and the handful of times the Illini would later cut the lead to single digits, has grown up as a team.
“It’s because of our experience,” Jok said. “When teams are coming back, we don’t rush anything. We know what we have to do to win.”
The loss was the fifth in seven games for injury-plagued Illinois (11-13, 3-8).
“Defensively, what hurt us more than anything was their transition game and the rebounding,” Illini coach John Groce said.
Iowa outrebounded the Illini 43-32. Illinois has been outrebounded in 10 of its 11 conference games.
Jarrod Uthoff added 18 points and 12 rebounds for Iowa and Adam Woodbury had 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Jalen Coleman-Lands led Illinois with 17 points, going 5 of 11 from 3-point range.
Jok’s dominant spell to open the second half was the difference in a game that Illinois had been finding a way to stay in.
And his confidence was visibly high.
Just under 5 minutes into the second half, he fired a low-trajectory 3-point attempt that somehow touched nothing but net. Jok flashed a big grin as he jogged back on defense and the Hawkeyes were up 53-38.
When Jok wasn’t scoring, he was providing.
Moments later he missed a jumper and the ball bounced away from the rim with Illinois’ Malcolm Hill close behind it, scrambling for the rebound.
But Jok, laying on his back at the top of the key, found himself with the ball. Looking right, he saw Uthoff alone behind the 3-point line and fed him the ball.
Uthoff buried the shot and the Hawkeyes went up 56-38.
“That play in particular I think really crushed them,” Uthoff said. “It really took the air out of their sails.”
Iowa would push the lead to as many as 20 points midway through the half.
Iowa looked like the Big Ten title contender it is, and Illinois – which has settled into the back of the conference pack – did not.
“They’re good enough, they’ve got a chance to beat anybody,” Groce said of the Hawkeyes. “They look like they’ve played together a long time.”
Even when the Hawkeyes were off, it didn’t matter.
Illinois closed within 73-63 with 2:03 to play on a layup by Michael Finke. But the Illini could get no closer.
Hill finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Iowa’s rebounding edge led to 26 second-chance points. Illinois had just six. McCaffery gave most of the credit to Woodbury.
“Adam has really established himself as a premier rebounder in the country,” McCaffery said. “It makes such a difference to your defense when you only give them one shot.”
Coming into Sunday’s game, Hill and Kendrick Nunn had both scored in double figures in every Illinois game they had played in this season, 23 for Hill and 17 for Nunn. That ended for Nunn who had six points in 26 minutes Sunday. Hill’s points were tough to get, coming against frequent double-teams that limited him to just nine shots.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes were coming off a win over Penn State in which they gave up just one 3-pointer on 20 attempts. … Guard Mike Gesell finished with eight points, leaving him two short of 1,000 for his career.
Illinois: Finke returned to the lineup after missing the Rutgers game with a bruised knee he suffered against Wisconsin. He finished with five points and four rebounds. … Coming into Sunday’s game, three of Illinois’ past four games had gone to overtime, including Wednesday’s 110-101 triple-overtime win at Rutgers. In those three games, Hill averaged 43.7 minutes a game and Nunn 42.7.
Iowa: Plays at No. 22 Indiana on Thursday.
Illinois: Plays at Northwestern on Saturday.