Stoic and sizzling, Iowa's Peter Jok puts on a Senior Day show
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There are two Peter Joks.
The off-the-basketball-court version is even-keeled, so stoic that not even a Senior Day ceremony at Carver-Hawkeye Arena brings out any tears.
Then there’s the Jok that’s prone to sudden outbursts of brilliant shooting, the one who piles up points so quickly and effortlessly that opposing coaches can only call timeout and try to get their shell-shocked players to regroup.
Iowa fans got to witness both Joks one last time Sunday — the calm and the storm.
Jok smiled and held up a framed No. 14 jersey before the game, flanked by his guardian and three siblings.
He sat patiently on the bench, saddled with two fouls, throughout the first half, scoring his lone point on a free throw after a technical foul.
Then, as he has done so many times the past two seasons, Jok turned into a human blowtorch, lighting up his home arena with 11 points in the first 3 minutes of the second half and propelling the Hawkeyes to a 90-79 victory over Penn State.
“The guys said they were going to find me, so I just had to score,” Jok matter-of-factly explained after what was likely his final game here. “I just got on a run, and then they kept finding me.”
What Jok makes sound so simple is magical to behold, and the sellout crowd of 15,400 responded with rousing cheers. Jok finished with a team-high 21 points and secured the Big Ten Conference scoring title with a points average of 20.2. The last Hawkeye to lead the league in scoring was Adam Haluska a decade ago.
More important to Jok was that it was a fourth consecutive victory for Iowa (18-13, 10-8 Big Ten). The Hawkeyes earned the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will face Indiana at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Washington, D.C. One win there might be enough to get the Hawkeyes a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance; two wins would almost assure it.
“There’s no better time to connect, to click, than in March,” said Jok, who hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament in his playing career.
Four other Iowa players joined Jok in double-figure scoring Sunday — Nicholas Baer (a career-high 20), Cordell Pemsl (14), Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook (11 apiece). The Hawkeyes were able to take a 47-36 halftime lead while Jok cooled his heels, getting 10 consecutive defensive stops at one point. Earlier this season, they won back-to-back games while Jok sat out with a back injury.
But there’s no doubting Jok’s value to Iowa. He provides a dimension that no other Hawkeye can, an ability to carry a team. It was evident at the outset of the second half when the Hawkeyes exploded for a 27-point lead before getting careless late and allowing Penn State (14-17, 6-12) to rally.
“We know that we’re able to win without him. But when you’ve got a guy doing what he’s doing on the floor, it makes it a whole lot easier,” the freshman Pemsl said of Jok. “He’s coming off screens. He’s pulling up. He’s hitting every shot. And it gets the crowd going. It gets you going. And now you want to go play defense.
“You turn it up a couple of notches.”
Jok wasn’t the only Hawkeye to bid farewell to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday (barring any home games in the National Invitation Tournament). Junior Dale Jones, who has played in only 11 games in two injury-plagued seasons here, got his first career start. The Waterloo native elicited a roar from the crowd when he swished an early 3-pointer for his first basket this season.
“Just to be in the starting lineup, hear my name called and hear the crowd erupt, it was a great feeling. It felt like home,” said Jones, who had knee surgery last season and suffered a broken wrist in the third game of this one.
Jones will graduate in May and said he would like to play more basketball somewhere. It’s unlikely to be at Iowa, though, since the Hawkeyes have 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, with three recruits set to join them next year.
Jones said he would be interested in finding a team looking for a scorer, but that no decision has been made. He praised his teammates for keeping his spirits up during his periods of rehabilitation.
“They really got me through it and really kept my head high and kept me laughing and not thinking about it any,” Jones said.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told reporters after Sunday’s game that Jok fulfilled a prophecy by leading the Big Ten in scoring. The two had that conversation after Jok flirted with entering the NBA Draft after his junior year, when he averaged 16.2 points. But Jok’s value went far beyond his points total. He has 164 rebounds and 77 assists as well.
“I said, ‘You’re going to lead the Big Ten in scoring. That’s the plan.’ He said, ‘Absolutely,’” McCaffery said of that offseason discussion with Jok.
“You don’t look at him and say, ‘OK, there’s a guy who is hunting shots. There’s a guy whose only purpose in life is to lead the Big Ten in scoring.’ He moves the ball. He understands how to hit the guy on the pick and roll. He understands how to screen. He understands that he’s got to get on the glass if we’re going to play three guards. Then, he’s got to lead a young team.”
Jok has led that team with actions more than words. He reiterated that Sunday after his 13th game with 20 or more points this season.
Jok also said there wasn’t a moment Sunday when the finality of bidding farewell to his home arena and fans caught up with him.
“I’m not a really emotional person,” he said. “I’m just happy that we got a win on my last day here.”