Iowa hoops takeaways: Jok's slow starts on road, a surprising team meltdown

Mark Emmert

EVANSTON, Ill. — The Iowa men’s basketball team will get six more chances to pick up an elusive road victory this winter, and one thing is clear: It won’t happen if star guard Peter Jok keeps getting off to sluggish starts.

Iowa forward Ryan Kriener was the biggest bright spot in Sunday's loss, putting in a career-high 14 points. The freshman from Spirit Lake appears to have earned a bigger role for the Hawkeyes.

The Hawkeyes fell hard at Northwestern on Sunday, losing 89-54 for their most lopsided loss ever against the Wildcats. Jok, leading the Big Ten Conference in scoring at 21.9 points per game, shouldered the blame afterward, just as he did in defeats at Notre Dame and Purdue.

It was a noble attempt, although not entirely accurate. Obviously, Iowa’s problems extended far beyond Jok on Sunday, just as they did in the earlier games.

Leistikow: Iowa's Peter Jok one of America's underappreciated stars

But Jok’s first-half performances in road games have been surprisingly quiet. He has scored only 19 points, on 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) shooting, in the opening halves of losses at Notre Dame (92-78), Purdue (89-67), Nebraska (93-90) and Northwestern.

In the double-overtime classic at Nebraska, Jok rebounded to post 30 points after intermission for by far his — and the team’s — best showing on enemy territory. He had four points on 2-of-7 shooting in the first half of that one.

He had identical numbers at halftime Sunday. Then he was held scoreless in 6 minutes of the second half for his poorest outing of the season. Jok’s previous low this year was 13 points.

“I didn’t really have any energy tonight,” Jok admitted.

Therefore, he said, it was impossible for the rest of his team to follow his lead.

Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl (left) battles for a loose ball against Northwestern forward Vic Law on Sunday. The Hawkeyes couldn't keep pace with the Wildcats and lost another road game.

But Jok wasn’t alone in that camp. Starting forward Cordell Pemsl had only two points, his least effective performance since scoring a single point in a Nov. 25 loss to Virginia. Starting guard Isaiah Moss has now produced back-to-back games with just two points after scoring 24 in the previous two games.

And on it went.

Freshman forward Ryan Kriener suggested Jok was being too hard on himself.

“It’s obviously not Pete’s fault. It’s a team thing. We should have played a lot better defense as a unit and you can’t expect Pete to shoulder the scoring load every night,” Kriener said. “Everyone’s allowed to have an off night.”

Iowa’s next chance at a road victory comes Jan. 25 at Illinois.

Meanwhile, here are some other takeaways from Sunday’s defeat:

A surprising no-show

After that 89-67 loss at Purdue to open Big Ten play, Iowa responded to play four extremely competitive games — three victories and the agonizing setback at Nebraska. The most recent win was an instant-revenge 83-78 upset of the Boilermakers on Thursday.

It felt like too much growth had occurred for the Hawkeyes to get manhandled again.

That’s why Sunday’s margin was so surprising.

“We hoped we were past this kind of stuff,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said. “That’s part of the journey, part of the process of growing. You’ve got to go through the hard stuff.

“They were obviously the tougher team (Sunday). They were more locked in. … And, unfortunately, we let them do what they wanted to do.”

Deja Purdue

Those involved felt Sunday’s loss was very much like that Dec. 28 game in West Lafayette.

Both started with the home team blitzing the Hawkeyes with 8-0 runs to open play, prompting timeouts by coach Fran McCaffery. Neither game got much better for the visitors.

“They got out with the hot start at their place,” Cook said, nodding in agreement. “And, obviously, it’s going to be hard to come back anywhere from that.”

Cook could find no explanation for why his team was so flat Sunday.

“I wish I had an answer for you, honestly,” he said. “I wish I did.”

The difference this time is that Iowa won’t get a chance for payback against Northwestern unless they meet in the Big Ten tournament. The Wildcats do not visit Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season.

A tale of two freshmen

The only two encouraging signs for Iowa came from Cook and Kriener, freshmen forwards who each put up 14 points. It was Cook that responded after that initial 8-0 deficit, scoring the Hawkeyes’ first six points to briefly keep his team in the game.

Cook was aggressive about attacking the rim and Northwestern was determined to foul him to make him earn his points at the free-throw line.

It was a solid strategy. Cook entered the game making only 55.3 percent of his free throws. His previous season-high in attempts was 12, in a home loss to Seton Hall. He converted only five of them on that night.

But Sunday, Cook made 8 of 9. If he keeps that up, teams won’t be able to risk foul trouble and will be more apt to let him roam.

Kriener, though, was the offensive story of the game for Iowa. He came off the bench firing, hitting three first-half shots as Northwestern seemed content to give him space on the perimeter. In the second half, Kriener was in such a good rhythm that he even stepped back to nail the first 3-pointer of his career.

His 14 points, on 6-of-7 shooting, followed a six-point outing against Purdue and showed that the Spirit Lake native is determined to have a big role on this Iowa team yet. Junior forward Dom Uhl sat out Sunday with a thumb injury, which also may mean more minutes for Kriener.

“I’ve been saying for a while that that kid’s too good. He needs to be playing,” said McCaffery in his only positive statement after Sunday’s game.

“He’s going to play now.”

“I just kind of embrace my role coming off the bench, giving a spark when needed and if I have an open shot I’m going to knock it down,” said Kriener, who looked extremely confident Sunday.

“There was one (shot) that was a little contested, but I was already feeling it.”