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No. 4 Iowa grinds out win over Minnesota

By Brendan Stiles, The Sports Xchange

IOWA CITY -- It wasn't the prettiest of efforts, but by night's end, the fourth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes found themselves where they wanted to be -- alone atop the Big Ten.

By beating Minnesota 75-71 on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa took advantage of both No. 2 Maryland and Indiana losing this weekend and now has sole possession of first place at 11-2 with five games remaining. Minnesota, meanwhile, remains winless in Big Ten play, dropping to 0-13.

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The good for Iowa was it ended up receiving stellar performances from its top two players -- senior forward Jarrod Uthoff and junior guard Peter Jok. Uthoff finished with a double-double of 24 points and 15 rebounds, while Jok scored a game-high 27 points on 8-of-14 shooting.

But for the majority of this contest, Minnesota kept it close. The Hawkeyes started the game shooting a lackluster 5-of-17 from the floor and the Golden Gophers at one point in the first half held a 20-12 edge in rebounds.

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"I thought we did a lot of good things. It was not a perfect game," Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. "But you know, if you study (Minnesota), you're going to have to fight until the end, you're going to have to execute, you're going to have to do things.

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"You're going to have to overcome some adversity throughout the course of the game because they're going to create that. They're going to keep coming."

With Minnesota leading 26-25, Uthoff finally caught fire for Iowa. After going the first 16 minutes without a single bucket, the Big Ten Player of the Year candidate scored the Hawkeyes' final nine points of the half and Iowa took a 34-28 lead into the locker room at halftime.

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"It was a big momentum changer," Uthoff said. "I think it was important for us, just from a confidence standpoint, to get them on their heels more."

Jok scored Iowa's first eight points to start the second half and it appeared as though the Hawkeyes would win in runaway fashion. But the Golden Gophers continued to hang around. Sophomore guard Nate Mason was held scoreless in the first half, but ended up leading Minnesota in scoring with 14 points on the evening. Mason also finished with six assists.

The Golden Gophers also received strong outings from its freshmen duo of forward Jordan Murphy and guard Dupree McBrayer. Murphy finished with 11 points and six rebounds, while McBrayer had 12 points.

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Minnesota got back to within two points before Jok drained a 3-pointer to extend Iowa's lead to 69-64. Then holding a 70-66 lead in the closing minutes, senior guard Mike Gesell found Uthoff inside for one of his 12 assists on the evening and Uthoff's dunk put the Hawkeyes ahead by six points.

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"He's a match-up problem," Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said of Uthoff. "He shoots it from half-court, makes it, and then he'll drive right by you. So he's an NBA basketball player."

Iowa travels to Penn State for its next game on Feb. 17. Minnesota returns home to face Maryland on Feb. 18, looking to build off playing a team like the Hawkeyes down to the wire away from Williams Arena.

"This definitely boosts our confidence, saying we can play with anybody in the country," McBrayer said. "Coming into Maryland, we just got to execute the scouting report and then hopefully get a win."

NOTES: With Sunday's win, Iowa extended its current winning streak at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to 17 games. Ironically, the last team to defeat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City was Minnesota, who beat Iowa 64-59 on Feb. 12, 2015. ... Sunday's game marked the fifth straight Sunday Iowa has played a game this season. The Hawkeyes won their previous four Sunday contests against Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern and Illinois, and they play one more regular season Sunday game at Ohio State on Feb. 28. ... Minnesota entered Sunday's game at 0-12 in the Big Ten, marking the worst start to conference play in program history. The Golden Gophers' last victory of any kind came back on Dec. 16 against Chicago State.

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