IOWA CITY, Iowa — A No. 14 Iowa jersey took the court. He fired up shots and found open teammates. He even grabbed rebounds and got out in transition.
It looked a lot like Peter Jok in his first game back from a back injury on Sunday, but even Peter Jok admitted he wasn’t really Peter Jok.
“Next game I’ll be more aggressive,” Jok said. “That is what I was missing.”
He did go out and score 12 points, grab 5 rebounds and dish out 5 assists in the 81-70 victory over Nebraska.
It’s not like Jok was a non-factor, but he wasn’t himself. He deferred and wasn’t seeking out his shot. The player who leads the Big Ten with 20.6 points a game didn’t show up — and it was by design.
Jok treated it like a warm-up game. He spent the first half being more Chris Paul than Kevin Durant. Jok focused on finding open teammates. He only took 3 shots.
“I was looking like a role player,” Jok said. “I was fine with that today because I wanted to get back into a rhythm. I feel good.”
Jok made the decision to slowly wade back into the Big Ten waters. He wasn’t going to announce his return with a cannonball.
He said it wasn’t because of the back injury and that he felt fine, but he played early on like someone who needed confirmation he could handle the rigors of the game.
Jok also didn’t want to disrupt the offensive flow. The Hawkeyes won their last two games without him. They dropped 168 combined points and shot 50 percent in both contests thanks to ball movement and patience. Jok was content blending in instead of standing out.
“I told them you keep playing the way you are playing,” Jok said. “I am going to do my part, but my mindset was just to get back in the game.”
He thought it would happen in the final 20 minutes. He fired off a shot 46 seconds into the second half. It went in, but was negated by a traveling call. Jok didn’t mind the whistle because he thought it meant his scoring touch was back.
“When a shooter sees the ball go in that’s a real confidence builder right there,” Jok said. “I felt like I could make a lot.”
But he didn’t. His shot didn’t come around and the Cornhuskers never gave him room to work. Jok missed all 4 of his second-half field-goal attempts and was more useful as a screener and distributor than scorer.
“He didn’t shoot up to what his normal part was,” Brady Ellingson said, “but he played great, drew a lot of attention with great defense, a lot of assists. He was awesome for us.”
Here is the thing: Even though he wasn’t playing like Jok the Cornhuskers treated him like Jok. The defense keyed in on him. It opened up opportunities for Jordan Bohannon to score 17 points and Ellingson to add 11 points.
What Iowa did so well in the last week without Jok continued to happen with Jok back in the lineup.
“Whenever he got the ball he was trying to work for everyone else,” Bohannon said. “He knows that everyone was trying to stop him and a lot of people were helping off of us.”
It worked against the Cornhuskers, but the Hawkeyes want the old Jok back. Iowa is at its best when Jok is a threat to score the second he touches the ball.
It’s one thing when Ellingson or Bohannon is hitting shots. Incorporating the team’s best player more into an offense with a new feel will only elevate the team’s game. Ellingson is sure of it.
“Guys played expanded roles and gained some confidence,” Ellingson said. “When he is back we want the other guys staying aggressive, too. Pete will do his thing. It’s just a matter of time, but we need to keep doing our thing.”
It is just a matter of time. Sunday wasn’t going to be the day, not with Jok taking it slowly. But he liked the way he shot in practice last week. Jok doesn’t think his shooting touch is going anywhere.
“If I am aggressive, doing my thing and they are doing their game we will be really dangerous,” Jok said.
This weekend was the soft open. The true return of Jok is coming. Possibly at Minnesota on Wednesday. If Jok’s review is correct it could very well be worth the wait.