CHAMPAIGN, ILL. — It was more of the same for the Iowa basketball team Wednesday night.
Another terrible start. Another hobbled effort by senior Peter Jok. And yet another loss on the road.
The Hawkeyes fell behind very early again, did very little to slow down Illinois in the first half and never recovered on their way to a 76-64 loss to the Illini at the State Farm Center.
For the third straight game and the fourth time in the Big Ten season, the Hawkeyes watched the opposing team bolt to an 8-0 lead in the first couple of minutes. Illinois (13-8, 3-5 Big Ten) actually had a 10-0 advantage and it was never really a contest after that.
The Illini had a 16-point lead at halftime and Iowa never got within nine points in the second half despite playing with more energy and cohesion in the final 20 minutes.
The Hawkeyes (11-10, 3-5 Big Ten) are now 0-5 in true road games this season and still trying to figure out why they seem to start games so slowly, especially away from home.
“I’m not entirely sure,’’ sophomore forward Nicholas Baer said in a postgame interview on the Hawkeye Radio Network. “It’s something we’re going to need to figure out internally. I’m still confident our best basketball is in front of us.’’
Baer and Ahmad Wagner scored 12 points apiece to lead Iowa, which got 40 of its 64 points from the bench. It was the second straight game in which Wagner matched his career high.
Jok added 10 points but it was apparent the team’s senior star was plagued by back spasms and other physical issues for the third straight game. He made just 3 of 9 shots from the field and committed four turnovers, and has now scored just 28 points in those three games.
Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon also was not himself. He was plagued by the flu, did not even participate in the pregame shoot-around and contributed only three points.
Despite that, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery wasn’t completely disheartened by the way his team played after that awful beginning.
“We fought to keep it manageable,’’ he said in his radio interview. “We only had three turnovers in the second half. I thought a lot of good things came out of those last 30 minutes …
“I really thought we shared the basketball and played well in the second half.’’
He said he thought Wagner and Dom Uhl were “spectacular’’ in the second half and he felt Christian Williams did a solid job filling in for Bohannon.
“That’s what teams have to do,’’ he said. “We have to have guys come in and play the way they did.’’
Reserve forward Michael Finke led the early Illini assault and finished with 17 points. Maverick Morgan added 12, Malcolm Hill 11 and Leron Black 10.
“Finke got away from us early, which we didn’t want to happen,” McCaffery said. “Once he got going he was feeling really good and you don’t want that to happen for the opposing team.”
The Illini opened their big lead by shooting 55.6 percent from the field in the first half, but then they shot just 34.5 percent after halftime, allowing Iowa to close the margin.
Wagner netted seven points in a 10-1 scoring run that trimmed the Illinois lead to 66-57 with 3 ½ minutes remaining. But freshman guard Te’Jon Lucas, who got his first career start, made two free throws and Finke knocked down one last 3-pointer to keep it from getting any closer.
“I thought the second half not as good but at end of the day we had a great team effort,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said in a postgame interview on the Big Ten Network. “Strength in numbers has been our motto all season and we had a lot of guys contribute.’’