Iowa's Jok proves he can still pile up points

Mark Emmert

The latest Peter Jok points explosion began with a designed play out of a timeout:

A Nicholas Baer pass, a Jok layup while being fouled and then an automatic point on a free throw.

That would be innocuous stuff for most players.

Feb 8, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA;  Iowa Hawkeyes guard Peter Jok (14) defended by Amir Coffey (5) at Williams Arena. Minnesota won 101-89 in double overtime.

Iowa’s star shooting guard showed again Wednesday that he is not most players.

Jok followed his and-one with a fierce defensive effort, prowling from sideline to sideline at the top of the Hawkeyes’ zone press to help shake the confidence of Minnesota’s suddenly timid ball-handlers.

The turnovers piled up, and Jok kept turning them into points — 24 in all over a 10-minute stretch that saw Iowa’s 13-point deficit become a 75-73 lead with 1:35 left at Williams Arena.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the points,” Jok said after accumulating 28 of them in Iowa’s eventual double-overtime loss. “I was so dialed in on defense. And we got a lot of stops, which led to easy baskets.”

Jok often makes it look easy. Wednesday’s effort marked the ninth time this season he has scored 25 or more points. The senior out of West Des Moines Valley High School is leading the Big Ten Conference at 20.9 points per game. His 40-minute performance at Minnesota showed he is over the back injury that sidelined him for two games in late January.

Jok will be asked to follow that up with another strong showing on two days of rest Saturday at Michigan State (5 p.m., BTN). That’s where he poured in 19 first-half points in a 76-59 win a year ago.

“He looks fine to me,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday of Jok. “Next year, he wants to play 48 minutes a game five days a week (in the NBA). I think Peter Jok’s a tough kid, and he’ll play through some discomfort — he wants to be out there.”

Jok scored only two first-half points at Minnesota — his second game back in the starting lineup. He was apparently lulling the Gophers to sleep.

“The first half, I was still trying to get my rhythm back. I didn’t feel right in the first half. And then, in the second half, my teammates told me, ‘You’ve got to step up and lead us',” Jok said afterward.

His 10-minute, game-turning parade of points culminated with a 3-pointer that he lined up over Minnesota center Reggie Lynch. The 6-foot-10, 260-pounder had blocked six shots, including a pulsating rejection of a Jok layup attempt moments earlier.

This time, Jok launched a perfect shot that put Iowa (14-11, 6-6 Big Ten) ahead — one of 18 lead changes. And then he whispered into Lynch’s ear before heading back downcourt. The players later shared a brief embrace when they ran into each other in the hallway outside their locker rooms, Jok pausing in the middle of a media interview to greet Lynch.

“My back feels great. I’ve been going pretty hard in the last few practices. It’s not hurting. I’ve just got to keep icing it,” Jok then told reporters.

Is he good for another 40 minutes against the Spartans, Jok was asked.

“I can go all day,” he said. “When I took that week off for my back, it re-energized everything  — my mental, my physical-wise. So I’m ready to go. I’m not even tired right now.”

McCaffery said he may give Jok an extra minute of rest when he can Saturday, but also said he expects his star to be able to provide his usual production — that includes a streak of 25 consecutive made free throws. That includes much better defense this year, which can ignite Jok’s output on the other end of the court, as it did Wednesday. Jok had nine rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot along with his 28 points.

“I think Pete’s an underrated defender, and I think the more he does that the better his offense is,” McCaffery said. “The hard thing for him sometimes is he plays so many minutes (30.1 per game to lead the Hawkeyes) and we require him to do a lot. Sometimes you feel like you need to rest a little bit on defense a possession or two. So I think the more he gets after it, the better he is at the other end.”

Michigan State (14-10, 6-5) is a team that is typically physical and one that is coming off a humbling 86-57 loss at rival Michigan. The Spartans stand fifth in the Big Ten standings, a half-game ahead of sixth-place Iowa.

The Spartans will test the conditioning of Jok and Hawkeyes freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon, who logged 45 minutes at Minnesota.

Bohannon is averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 assists while leading Iowa in total minutes played at 722. The 6-foot, 182-pounder is doing so despite opposing teams constantly jostling him and trying to get him off-balance.

McCaffery said Bohannon’s durability under duress has not surprised him. He was able to watch the Linn-Mar graduate play frequently during high school and AAU competition, particularly since McCaffery’s sons, Connor and Patrick, were in the same Iowa Barnstormers program.

“The last thing I was worried about with him was his makeup and his basketball IQ,” McCaffery said of Bohannon. “It doesn’t matter what they do to him. It doesn’t matter who they send after him. … He’ll go out there and he’ll perform well. He’s going to throw the ball to people that are open. He’s going to shoot it when he’s open. He’s going to make shots. He’s going to make free throws. He’s not going to make a ton of mistakes.”

Bohannon pronounced himself ready for his first trip to East Lansing after Wednesday’s game.

“It’s a grind. Anything can happen, really,” he said of his Big Ten debut. “We made quite a run at the top six in the Big Ten, and a lot of people didn’t have us that far up. We want to keep getting up to a good seed for the Big Ten Tournament.

“We’re going to have a tough practice (Thursday). We’re going to get to work.”