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Rutgers Fights Iowa But Falls 90-76

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It wasn't a win, but Rutgers played very well at times. There is no such thing as moral victories. However, Rutgers showed some signs of life and when they played within the offense, were very effective in the paint.

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At the first TV timeout, with less than five minutes into the game, Rutgers trailed 13-2.  They were a mess, running wildly around, turning the ball over and allowing Iowa, specifically Peter Jok, wide open looks from the perimeter. Without a doubt, I thought "dear god, they are going to top their 50 point loss from Monday". And then a funny thing happened, Rutgers settled down and started to compete. They took it to the Hawkeyes and found success in the paint on offense.

Iowa went into a 2-3 zone on defense, which slowed down Rutgers on offense, forcing them to spread the ball around the perimeter and got them driving to the basket.  It helped ignite an inspiring 28-16 run by Rutgers and they took a 30-29 lead over Iowa with 4:31 left in the first half. All eight Scarlet Knights got involved in the scoring column and they shared the ball with each other.  They played with energy and fought for loose balls.  It was a total team effort and they were giving one of the best teams in the country everything they could handle.

Unfortunately, Iowa woke up and Rutgers stubbornly kept shooting three-pointers, ending up 0-6 for the half. The Hawkeyes ended the half on a 16-7 run and led 45-37 at the break. Iowa put on the full court press and Rutgers lost control, turning the ball over and falling out of rhythm on offense. They ran out of gas a bit and just like that, Iowa was back in control.

Iowa didn't play their best game, but give credit to Rutgers for having something to do with that, breaking them down in the paint on offense. They outscored the Hawkeyes 28-22 in the paint in the first half.  Iowa came into the game 2nd in the country in turnover ratio, but actually had five at the half to Rutgers six turnovers. Corey Sanders and D.J. Foreman were especially active, attacking loose balls and mixing it up.

However, Iowa kept getting too many good looks on offense and in the second half started knocking them down.  They forced a faster pace, and while Rutgers was somewhat effective on the break, they predictably could not keep up at that prolonged pace. It is very frustrating to watch this team keep playing with fire and always getting burned.  It's a lack of discipline and they are not learning from it, repeating this mistake every game.  With only eight scholarship players and missing three frontcourt players, it makes no sense for Rutgers to play up tempo on offense. The most frustrating part is they were actually effective in the halfcourt offense when they played it.

Rutgers fell behind 75-58 with 7:48 left to play in the game. Again, Rutgers fought back, pulling within 80-72 after an Omari Grier three with 4:16 to play. That was as close as they got, falling to the Hawkeyes by the final score of 90-76. Iowa was led by the three headed monster of Peter Jok, Anthony Clemmons and Big Ten player of the year candidate, Jarrod Uthoff. Jok came out firing, scoring 11 of Iowa's first 13 points, and finished with a game high 29 points.  Clemmons had 20 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds.  Uthoff found his stroke in the second half and finished with 20 points, including 4-6 from three, and had 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. 7'1" center Adam Woodbury had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while starting point guard Mike Gesell distributed 9 assists.

A few things were clear tonight.  Rutgers desperately missed Jonathan Laurent, who gave this team a major spark with his energy and athleticism, returning after missing the past four games.  He finished with  14 points on 6-10 from the floor and 3 rebounds  . This team, despite its lack of frontcourt depth, can score near the rim when they make that a priority.  They shot a much improved 48.4% from the field, after shooting just 35.5% in their last three games. Rutgers actually shot better than Iowa, who finished 47.7% for the game.

It is even more amazing when you realize Rutgers is just an awful three-point shooting team.  After tonight's 4-17 (23.5%) performance, they are now 12-70 for a dreadful 17.1% in their past four games.  When Sanders, Bishop Daniels, Mike Williams and D.J. Foreman drive to the basket with authority, they are talented enough to finish and be effective.  And they were tonight, but there wasn't enough emphasis on it and they fell into the three-point trap again. Despite shooting too many deep shots, Rutgers outscored Iowa in the paint 46-38 for the game.

Corey Sanders is the perfect example of this problem.  He played his most unselfish and heady game of his career, dishing out a career high 9 assists. He also displayed his athleticism and explosive first step, getting into the lane effectively multiple times.  Of course, he also forced some long jumpers and finished 0-6 from three-point range. Sanders is still learning and once he figures out he doesn't have to force the deep ball as much, he will become even more dangerous.  Sanders still finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, in addition to the 9 assists.  By the way, he came into tonight's game leading the Big Ten with 1.6 steals per game, and improved on it in this game.

Mike Williams bounced back with a solid performance, leading Rutgers with 17 points, shooting 7-15 from the field and grabbing 4 rebounds.  Omari Grier was dependable as usual lately, scoring 10 points on 4-5 from the field and dished out 3 assists. Bishop Daniels only shot it four times but had 6 rebounds and 3 assists along with 6 points.  However, his turnover issues that have plagued his entire career continued, committing 5 tonight. D.J. Foreman was aggressive at times and fought hard, finishing with 8 points and 9 rebounds.

Overall, this was an encouraging performance and one that proved when Rutgers plays with energy and focus, they are capable on the offensive end.  The team had 17 assists against just 11 turnovers, their best ratio in conference play this season.  They only lost the rebounding battle by 5 and outscored Iowa in the paint.  They played together and showed some spirit that was alarmingly missing on Monday. Rutgers put the embarrassment of the worst home loss in program history behind them and gave Iowa a run for their money.  Now with six days off before playing at Michigan, they must build off this performance.  Eddie Jordan and staff must harp on staying focused on their halfcourt offense and sharing the basketball.  When they do, Rutgers showed they are talented enough to score points in this league.  As for defense, well Rome wasn't built in a day. They can't afford to give their opponents so many open looks, as they did again tonight.