Koch finally cooks against Illinois

Koch finally cooks against Illinois

IOWA CITY, Iowa – In the grand scheme of things, the basket meant little.

But for J.R. Koch, it was one more reason to say "I told you so."

Koch's putback with 18 seconds left put Iowa up 18 on Wednesday against Illinois. The Hawkeyes "held on" for an 82-65 win.

The otherwise meaningless basket gave Koch 11 points. It was the sophomore's first double-figure game against his home-state school.

In two previous games against Illinois, the former Morton star scored a combined nine points.

"I'm from there," Koch said. "I've grown up watching the Illini. It's a little bit sweeter than the other ones."

Koch's Iowa teammates tried to get him fired up for the Illini.

"We kind of kid him during the week, 'Hey J.R., we heard Illinois didn't want you,' " Iowa center Ryan Bowen said. "(Iowa guard) Kent (McCausland) and I live with J.R. We get him motivated to play Illinois. He's kind of pumped for that."

Did the Illini recruit Koch? It depends on who you ask. Koch said the Illini offered him a scholarship.

"I just didn't feel like that was the place for me," Koch said. "I wish it would have been. It's a great school."

Koch doesn't have the same warm feelings for the former coaching staff.

"I like the coaching staff now better than the one that was there," Koch said. "Coach (Lou) Henson was a great guy, I just didn't see myself playing underneath him. It wasn't style, it was just I didn't see it."

Koch knew current Illini assistant Rob Judson from his days at Bradley. Illinois head coach Lon Kruger recruited Koch while at Florida.

Ultimately, Koch picked the Hawkeyes. Maybe it was the yellow and black colors.

"You can visualize some things," Koch said. "Being in an Iowa uniform, I pictured that. I just couldn't see playing at the Assembly Hall."

Bad news for Koch: He'll be at the Champaign arena in 10 days. The Hawkeyes play at Illinois on Feb. 9.

"That's going to be a fun game," Koch said. "I've got Indiana to look forward to first."

Koch will be ready for the next game with the Illini. He played against a few of the Illinois players while in high school. He watched star guard Kiwane Garris in the Chicago Public League.

"You've grown up with them, you know them and it's just fun to beat them," Koch said. "But they're a great club and they're going to be back."

Koch wants a repeat of Wednesday's performance when the Hawkeyes play in Champaign.

Koch and his two tall buddies (Bowen and Guy Rucker) combined for 45 points. They hit from inside and out, making three three-pointers.

"We thought that they had a smaller lineup and we could use our height as an advantage," Koch said. "That's what we tried to do tonight. Hopefully, we can do it again in a week."

Many of the 45 points came after drives by Iowa guard Andre Woolridge. Koch would camp outside the three-point line, with Bowen and Rucker closer to the basket.

"We're expected to hit that shot," Koch said. "When we're hitting it, we're pretty tough."

Tough enough to overcome an early 15-4 deficit.

"I was a little worried," Koch said. "I was upset with our play. I just wanted to get it going."

Koch did his part. His three-pointer with 5:32 left in the half gave Iowa its first lead.

"It doesn't mean any more," Koch said. "It's just three points put up on the board that's going to help our team win. That's what I wanted to do tonight is just win."

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