WASHINGTON — Peter Jok took a quick glance up from his smart phone and shook his head.
What is it about the dance before the Big Dance, anyway?
“It’s funny you say that,” Iowa’s senior guard said Thursday night after the Hawkeyes were bludgeoned out of the Big Ten Tournament by Indiana. “Last year’s teammates told me before the game, ‘Break the curse.’”
Curse 95, Iowa 73.
So much for the breaks.
‘The Curse,’ in this case, is an inside joke, pertaining to Iowa and the conference tourney — and the fact that, lately, the two have gone together like peanut butter and pickles.
Despite an outstanding collegiate career in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes’ wing star has appeared in just four league tourney games — and lost all four.
“You know, I’m not really sure what it is,” offered sophomore forward Nicolas Baer, who’s now dropped two straight Big Ten Tournament openers. “I think, obviously, the Big Ten Tournament is a place where we want to have success, and unfortunately, we haven’t lately.”
The Hawkeyes (18-14) haven’t just dropped four straight in the event — they’ve dropped four straight to double-digit seeds. In coach Fran McCaffery’s seven seasons at the helm, he’s gone one-and-done in five league championship brackets and sports a 2-7 career record in the Big Ten tourney.
“They came out and they were fired up,” Jok said of 10th-seeded Indiana (18-14) on Thursday. “They wanted revenge and they were hot. When Indiana is hot, they’re one of the best teams in the country. When they’re playing like that, they’re one of the best teams in the country, not just the Big Ten.”
The Hoosiers made a point to smother the 6-foot-6 Jok, who came in averaging 20.2 points per contest, at every turn — limiting him to a 4-for-11 shooting night with just 1 3-point make in 6 attempts. In four Big Ten Tournament appearances, the sharpshooting guard’s career line is 15 for 36 from the floor (.417), 6 for 15 from beyond the arc (.400) and 10.25 points per game.
‘When they play defense and shoot like that, they’re a tough team to beat.’
— Iowa guard Peter Jok on the Indiana Hoosiers
Take out a stellar 29-point effort in last year’s tourney loss to Illinois, and the totals drop to 5 for 20 (.250), 2 for 9 (.222) and 4.0 points per contest.
“Every night I’m getting every team’s best defender,” Jok said. “The best defensive focus.
“They played good defense (Thursday). They were at wherever I was at. They made sure, when I caught the ball, they were there. And when I passed to somebody, there was another person there. They just keyed in on me. And when they play defense and shoot like that, they’re a tough team to beat.”
After a see-saw first period, the Hoosiers put the game to bed with a 20-4 run early in the second half, a flurry capped by Thomas Bryant’s dunk with 12:26 left in the contest that put the Hawkeyes in a 67-52 hole.
“The first half, they made runs and we got back to it. We were playing our pace,” said Jok, who’d torched IU for 35 points in a 96-90 win in Iowa City back on Feb. 21. “Second half, they made a run and we missed shots. It’s hard to come back against a team like (that). They’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of great shooters. They had a 15-point lead, they just got really comfortable and it was hard to stop them from there.”