Defense is the focus for Iowa, Jok

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Peter Jok doesn’t just set the tone for his Iowa men’s basketball team on the offensive end of the court. He needs to be its most tenacious defender if the young Hawkeyes are going to be competitive throughout the long season ahead.

Defense has not been the forte of the senior shooting guard. It’s certainly not what earned Jok a scholarship four years ago when the long-range shooter graduated from West Des Moines Valley High School.

“From my freshman year to now, I’m a different player on both ends. But I think I took defense as a challenge,” Jok said this week.

Iowa's Peter Jok, left, and Nicholas Baer guard Kennesaw State's Nick Masterson during their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016.

“Defense is all about mental. How much do you want to play defense? So as soon as I had defense as my focus, I started playing better defensively.”

One game into Iowa’s season, the results have been mixed on that end of the floor. Iowa opened with a 91-74 victory over Kennesaw State on Friday that included a solid opening 20 minutes followed by a ragged second half.

The Hawkeyes limited the Owls to 25 points on 35.5 percent shooting before intermission, but yielded 49 points and 49 percent shooting after. That led to a timeout and a tongue-lashing from coach Fran McCaffery early in the second half.

“We worked really hard. We had one stretch in the first half (when) we had six consecutive stops and build a 20-point lead, give up a 3 at the buzzer and then come out really not ready to go starting the second half,” McCaffery said. “That is unacceptable.

“And I pointed that out.”

Iowa gets another chance to try to put together a full 40 minutes of strong defense at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, when Savannah State visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Tigers are coming off a 113-71 loss at Iowa State on Friday and actually represent a downgrade in opposition from Kennesaw.

“Our main focus all year is going to be defense, “Jok said before scoring a team-high 27 points against the Owls. “Offense-wise, we can score, we’ve been sharing the ball, we’re an unselfish team.

“Just playing with high intensity, playing harder than the other team. We’re talented, but everyone’s talented now. We’ve got to do something that separates us from everybody else.”

Iowa had nine steals and eight blocked shots Friday, led by reserve forward Ahmad Wagner. He had four of the blocks and two of the steals. Jok had another two steals, as did point guard Christian Williams before leaving the game after McCaffery’s timeout and not returning because of back problems.

He is expected to play Sunday, and the Hawkeyes will need him. Williams, a rangy 6-foot-5 sophomore, gives Iowa another dimension on the perimeter defensively. When paired with the 6-6 Jok, it allows them to switch off of offensive players whenever they wish. That can make for a superb ball-hawking duo.

“He’s a long point guard,” Wagner said of Williams. “He’s in the passing lanes. His arms are everywhere. He gets steals.

“He’s not the quickest guy, but he makes quick plays.”