Iowa senior Peter Jok left little doubt he belonged in the Big Ten player of the year conversation when he opened the season with 27 points or more in five of his first eight games, including a 42-point performance against Memphis.
Jok, a 6-foot-6 guard, proved dominant against Big Ten competition as well with a four-game conference stretch when he averaged 26.5 points per game. The Hawkeyes went 3-1 in that span.
Then suddenly Jok’s play took a nose dive in three straight losses.
He had four points on 2-for-9 shooting in 21 minutes in an 89-54 loss Jan. 15 at Northwestern. He had 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting in an 84-76 loss Jan. 19 against Maryland. Jok continued to struggle with 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting in a 76-64 loss at Illinois Jan. 25.
That’s when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery announced Jok would be sidelined with a back injury. The Hawkeyes won two in a row without him. They defeated Nebraska 81-70 Sunday in Jok’s return, but the conference’s top scorer still had just 12 points on 2-for-7 shooting.
“He had a couple looks,” McCaffery said after Sunday’s win against the Cornhuskers. “I'm sure he's frustrated they didn't go in. But I thought his shot selection was really terrific, really efficient. When he's out there and teams pay the attention to him that they pay, it opens things up for Jordan (Bohannon), for Brady (Ellingson), for Tyler Cook, for everybody else on our team.”
In his last four games, Jok’s averaging just 10 points on 11-for-37 shooting from the field, including 3-for-21 from three-point range. But Jok is still averaging 20.6 points this season, which made him a finalist for the Jerry West Award, given to the top shooting guard in the nation.
Will the Big Ten’s top scorer return to form Wednesday night at Minnesota? The Gophers aren’t worrying necessarily about that.
“They played well without him,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “That is not to imply they’re better without him. Their better with him. But they have played well both. They go at Rutgers and blitzed them without Jok. They’re playing well, regardless. They’ve got good balance. They shoot the ball well. They move the ball, and they have good young talent.”