The Iowa senior guard talks about a lack of energy and takes blame for loss at Northwestern
IOWA CITY, Ia. — A rested Peter Jok usually means a roasted opposing basketball team.
That doesn’t bode well for No. 25 Maryland, which faces Jok’s Hawkeyes at 6 p.m. Thursday (ESPN). Iowa has had three days off since its worst performance of the season, an 89-54 loss at Northwestern. That means Jok and his teammates were able to take an entire day away from basketball when they returned to Iowa City.
The numbers reveal how much that recuperation time means to Jok, a senior shooting guard who has been the focal point of every opponent’s defensive plan this season.
Since the Hawkeyes (11-8, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) returned from a Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Florida, Jok has made 22 of 45 3-point attempts when getting three days' or more of rest between games. That’s an otherworldly 48.9 percent.
On one or two days' of rest? Jok is 12 of 48 from long range, for an uncharacteristic 25 percent. That includes an 0 for 4 showing and a quick exit from Sunday’s loss, when Jok admitted to feeling lethargic after a couple of days battling an illness and a sore back.
“It was really important. I’m feeling better. I don’t feel sick as much anymore,” Jok said Tuesday when asked about the luxury of getting to take Monday off.
“I’m getting a lot of attention. There’s always two or three guys around me every time I’m catching the ball. So they’re just making me work harder than I have the last few years. But I feel like I worked this summer preparing myself for this.”
That work shows up in Jok’s 21.9 points per game, tops in the Big Ten. It’s also evident in his 6.2 rebounds per game to rank second on the team.
But when things go south for the Hawkeyes — as they did from the opening tip against Northwestern — Jok also looks like a player carrying a great weight. He was a step slow on defense Sunday, managed a season-low four points and was held without an assist for only the fourth time this season.
Jok stood outside Iowa’s locker room and blamed himself for not doing more to inspire his teammates after a game in which nothing short of divine intervention seemed likely to change the outcome.
“When I come out strong, then they follow me. And when I’m doing good then they’re doing good,” Jok said of an Iowa roster that includes six first-year players, four of whom start alongside him. “They expect a lot out of me and when I don’t produce, I feel like I’m to blame.”
Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon conceded the first part of Jok’s statement, but disagreed with the conclusion.
“When he’s going, we’re going. But we’ve got to know that not everyone’s going to be going on a certain night. We’ve all got to step up,” Bohannon said.
“He’s trying to take the blame if we have a letdown in the game, but obviously we all know it’s a team effort.”
A team effort — and a refreshed Jok — will be needed Thursday to fend off the Terrapins (16-2, 4-1). Maryland has surged to first place in the Big Ten behind junior guard Melo Trimble’s 17.2 points per game. But he’s being complemented by a pair of freshmen in the backcourt as well — lightning bug point guard Anthony Cowan (11.1 ppg, 3.5 apg) and 6-foot-7 string bean Kevin Huerter (37 percent from the 3-point arc).
Trimble, though, remains the primary headache for opponents. At 6-3, he has the range to hurt the Hawkeyes from the 3-point line (33-for-97). But he’s even more adept at blowing past defenders and drawing contact to the tune of 103 free-throw attempts, an impressive figure for a guard.
“He's got an incredible burst. He's got the ability to play upright and still go by you, which is rare. So you'd think he's not going to go and then he goes, and that will draw some fouls,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of defending Trimble. “You've just got to try to tall up as best you can and keep your hands off his hip.”
That assignment figures to start with Iowa redshirt freshman Isaiah Moss, although everyone needs to be prepared to help when Trimble darts around a screen.
Defending the superstar guard is one intriguing storyline Thursday. Another is that both McCaffery and Maryland coach Mark Turgeon enter the game with identical career win totals of 380, a coincidence that seems to defy the odds.
Finally, the Terrapins have won three consecutive games, two of them on the road. Iowa has won its last seven at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, including victories against Iowa State, Michigan and, most recently, No. 22 Purdue.
Jok, on three days' rest, had 29 points in that win, the Hawkeyes’ biggest to date. One Thursday later, he’ll be rested again and ready to tangle with another ranked Big Ten foe. Maryland will throw every spare body against him.
“The reality is this: They did it to (Matt) Gatens, they did it to (Devyn) Marble. Everybody does it to the other team's best player,” McCaffery said, drawing a parallel between Jok and two of his stars of the recent past.
“I'm not worried about that. (Jok)'s had some injuries, and they have lingered, you're right. But he's as tough a guy as there is playing through that stuff.”