DES MOINES — OK, so apparently it wasn’t a one-time thing.
Apparently, that defensive number Iowa did on Iowa State nine days ago was only the beginning. Apparently, the Hawkeyes really are capable of playing high quality defense all the time. Apparently, they learned a lot of lessons from that disappointing display in a loss to Omaha.
The Hawkeyes played better than ever defensively Saturday against a pretty good Northern Iowa team as they completely dismantled the Panthers' offense in a 69-46 victory in the first game of the Hy-Vee Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.
It was Iowa’s most lopsided win over UNI since 2000 and the fewest points the Hawkeyes have allowed in a game in nearly two years. Iowa officials still are scouring the books to find the last time the Hawkeyes held a team to 16 points in the first half.
And yes, this was the same bunch of kids who gave up 98 points against a Summit League team just two weeks ago.
“We just beat a very good team,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after Saturday’s win. “They (the Panthers) didn’t play well today, but they didn’t play well because we defended them the way we did.’’
Peter Jok, who led Iowa with 21 hard-earned points and darn near snapped the ankles of UNI star Jeremy Morgan with one second-half move, said he and his teammates have “just bought into it.’’
Teammate Nicholas Baer, who added 11 points and 11 rebounds Saturday, said the constant repetition of doing things the right way finally is playing off.
“We’ve just been doing it in practice and practice carries over to the game,’’ Baer said.
The Hawkeyes (6-5) showed what they could do at the defensive end in a 78-64 conquest of Iowa State last week and McCaffery was just delighted to see them do it two games in a row against instate rivals.
“In the Iowa State game we put things together,’’ he said. “That’s great. Now can we put it together again? Can we put it together again after that? That’s the challenge going forward.’’
It was suffocating defense rather than crisp offense that helped the Hawkeyes open a big gap early in the game.
After Morgan knocked down UNI’s first two shots of the game, the Panthers went 11 straight offensive possessions without scoring. Over the span of six minutes, they missed 15 of 16 shots.
“There were a couple of stretches in there where we didn’t score,’’ McCaffery noted. “But neither did they.’’
By halftime, it was 34-16.
Not very far into the second half there was another 10-0 scoring run that gave Iowa a 51-24 cushion.
Included in that binge was a play in which Jok began to drive from the right wing, did a quick crossover, then slammed on the brakes so abruptly that Morgan was knotted into a pretzel. He was still recovering when Jok’s 17-footer swished through the net.
“I was on the floor when he did it,’’ freshman center Cordell Pemsl said, “and I almost had to stop because I was just like … I know what Pete’s got. I know his game, but I’ve never seen him do that before. That was an elite move by an elite guy and things like that, I’m getting more used to because I’ve never been around someone who can score the ball the way he does.’’
As Pemsl added, however, Jok did more than just score. He also grabbed eight rebounds and played a major role in holding down Morgan, who scored 38 points in a half only a week ago.
“He kind of took this game, the last few games, personally because he wants people to know he can defend the best of the best,’’ Pemsl said. “He can defend Jeremy Morgan, guys like that, Naz Long. He’s been great this season and it’s been a fun ride to be behind him and see where he can take us.’’
Morgan still finished with good numbers — 14 points, 9 rebounds 4 assists — but he was only 4 for 13 from the field and never had any room to breathe. Even when he escaped one Iowa defender, there was always a second and sometimes a third waiting to wave a hand in his face.
No one in a purple uniform shot well. UNI made just 26.8 percent from the field in the game, 19.4 percent before halftime.
The question now is whether the Hawkeyes will be able to continue to defend this way against teams from outside the state of Iowa.
“We know it’s going to be a roller coaster ride with a lot of ups and downs,’’ Jok said. “But it’s a long year. We just have to keep getting better and that’s what we’ve been doing.’’