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IOWA CITY — Peter Jok was irritated.
It wasn’t from being benched after he picked up his second foul in Sunday’s Penn State-Iowa basketball game with 15:25 left in the first half. The Hawkeye senior didn’t like that, of course, but quickly focused on being ready to play the second half. He was withheld from that 15:25 so he wouldn’t be burdened by foul trouble the rest of the game.
No, Jok was visibly upset after he missed the first of two free throws when he was reinserted in the game with 1:02 left in the half just for the foul shots that came because of Penn State Coach Patrick Chambers getting a technical foul.
Jok has made 92.0 percent of his free throws and thinks he should make them all. The Big Ten season record, set by Indiana’s Steve Alford in 1985, is 92.1 percent.
“I was cold,” Jok said. “I’d been sitting for a while. I wasn’t expecting going back in.
“‘I’m still standing at 90-plus. I’ve just got to get back to the free-throw line.”
He did that in the second half and a lot more, turning his 1-point halftime total into a team-high 21. Eleven came in the first 3:01 of the half, when Jok soared past microwave and went straight to thermonuclear.
This was how his Senior Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was supposed to be, a shooting star doing shooting star things in a 90-79 victory that shot the Hawkeyes closer to the NCAA tournament’s bubble.
Jok’s older brother, Dau Jok of Des Moines, said “It’s a running joke that he plays his best when he’s angry. I’m sure he wasn’t very happy sitting for 15 minutes, but it was good to see him be engaged and go out with a win.”
Twenty points in a half. We’ve seen that a few times from Jok the last couple years, haven’t we? He is this season’s Big Ten scoring leader at 20.2 points per game, despite after totaling a mere-mortal 19 over the previous two games, wins at Maryland and Wisconsin.
“I haven’t really played good on offense the last few games,” Jok said. “(His teammates) really picked it up. The young guys really stepped it up.”
The continued progression of Nicholas Baer (20 points, 10 rebounds Sunday), Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl and company is why Iowa has gone from an NIT maybe to an NCAA possibility. Jok was always a given, from Day One in November.
“I think he did what I expected him to do and what he expected to do,” McCaffery said. “When he decided to come back (after considering the merits of turning pro last summer), I told him, ‘You’re going to lead the Big Ten in scoring. That’s the plan.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’
“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.”
Dau Jok said he was full of thanks to the Hawkeyes’ coaches, players and fans. “Iowa’s made a home for him,” he said.
“But I also have gratitude to my brother because he’s taken the initiative to grow. You can try to help somebody all you want, but they have to be the one to do it. Everything he’s done and has become is a result of his work.”
Said McCaffery: “He goes for 42 in Florida (in a 100-92 November loss to Memphis). We get beat. He could have started pointing fingers, blaming me, blaming his teammates. He just hung in there with them and helped them.
“I couldn’t be more proud of that type of leadership and maturity.”
Now Mr. Jok goes to Washington and the Big Ten tourney this week with a team no one envisioned going 10-8 in the conference two weeks ago, let alone four months back.
At halftime Sunday, Jok said, “the guys said they were going to find me. So I just had to score, and they kept finding me.”
Twenty points after halftime. Was anyone the least bit surprised?