What a monumental disappointment tonight turned out to be for the Rutgers men’s basketball team. This is easily the worst performance of the season from a team that has been a revelation on defense and given great effort in pretty much every game they’ve played. There is no way to spin this loss, as Rutgers came out flat and looked like an emotionally broken team after suffering a heartbreaking defeat three days ago to Wisconsin at the Garden.
They fell behind to Iowa right from the opening tip, allowing the first 7 points of the game, then allowing the lead to balloon to 17-4 barely more than 5 minutes in. Rutgers had already turned it over 5 times by that point and allowed Iowa plenty of open space to shoot at will. Before you could blink, Rutgers trailed a red hot Iowa team 32-10 at the midway point of the first half. It was a disastrous start in every way. Due to their lack of proficiency from three-point range, Rutgers simply isn’t built to come from behind by significant margins such as this, even with more than half of the game still to be played.
Thankfully, Rutgers didn’t quit and finally responded behind the energy and play of Mike Williams and Deshawn Freeman, who combined 20 first half points. However, Iowa finished the first half shooting 52% from the field, including 7 of 13 from three-point range. Rutgers went into the locker room at the break down 48-30. This came just three days after Rutgers held the best team in the Big Ten, Wisconsin, to 45 points in 40 minutes of regulation.
They followed that dominant defensive performance by getting torched by a young Iowa team, winless on the road in Big Ten play, without the leading scorer of the conference, Peter Jok, who missed his second straight game due to back and shoulder issues. Growing pains were on full display tonight, as Rutgers imploded with mistake after mistake, never getting out of it’s own way.
At the start of the second half, Iowa scored the first 5 points and led by 23 points, before Rutgers showed some signs of life, with CJ Gettys driving from fullcourt down the baseline for an impressive lay-in, cutting the deficit to 53-37 with a little more than 15 minutes to play.
ICYMI: Ever see a 7-foot, 280-pound guy go 94 feet for the coast-to-coast bucket?— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 1, 2017
Just watch this C.J. Gettys play. https://t.co/C7XCagVDGU
Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes turned up the heat and just like that, had their biggest lead of the night at 64-39. A comeback was not in the cards and actually, not even a run to make things the least bit interesting. They were blown out 83-63, but the game wasn’t even that close, as Rutgers finished the game on an 11-4 run. Iowa had four players score in double figures and were led by freshman Jordan Bohannon, who was 5 of 7 from three-point range and finished with 17 points.
The worst outing for Rutgers before tonight was their 13 point loss at home on New Year’s Day versus Penn State. Howeve, in that game, they at least played tremendous defense and lost due to their worst offensive output of the season, scoring just 47 points. Tonight was different and much worse. I hate to say it, but this felt more like a rerun of a loss from last season than any defeat under new head coach Steve Pikiell, as the team made costly mistakes and showed little fight in the early going.
If any stat tells you how the game played out, it’s this: Rutgers held a +9 edge on the offensive glass, but lost the battle of second chance points 18-8. Iowa finished the game shooting 11 of 18 for 63% from three-point range, despite Rutgers entering the game tops in the Big Ten, allowing just 29% shooting from opponents from behind the arc. Rutgers shot just 39% from the field in this game and were just 4 of 15 from deep. The turnovers really killed this team in the early going though, and they finished with 17 on the night. It has been a major problem all year. After losing to Iowa by 6 points on the road with Peter Jok playing earlier this month, they were never truly in this game.
Deshawn Freeman did deliver his ninth double-double of the season, finishing with 17 points and 13 rebounds. He was 8 of 14 from the field, but just 1 of 5 from the free throw line. Mike Williams was the only other Scarlet Knight to score in double figures, finishing with 16 points, as well as 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Although he struggled from the field, shooting just 5 of 15 from the floor, he played with energy and effort from the moment he entered the game. It was also positive to see him make 2 of 4 shots from behind the arc, as well as Issa Thiam, who finally broke through with a 2 of 6 shooting performance from three-point range.
Rutgers now heads back on the road for a two game trip at Penn State this Saturday, followed by a visit to Ohio State a week from now. Both of these games represent the best opportunities for Rutgers to notch their first road win ever for the program in Big Ten play. I’m not giving up on this team and neither should you. Unfortunately, this team didn’t come to play tonight and it’s part of the process of rebuilding a program that started at rock bottom after last season. I do believe this game was an outlier, based on so many spirited efforts before this contest.
They’ve made some significant progress this year under Pikiell and honestly, coming so close to stunning Wisconsin seemed to deeply affect this team tonight. There was no intensity or fight shown in the first ten minutes of the game and by the time they woke up, the game was for all intents and purposes, already over. Pikiell talked after Saturday’s loss about them learning how to win against good teams. Add learning how to turn the page after a gut wrenching loss to the list as well.
This team has three days to regroup and put the past two losses behind them. They need to go back to the basics and rededicate themselves on the defensive end, as they did a great job against Penn State in their first meeting, holding them to just 60 points. Of course, a total team effort and a much cleaner performance is needed to have a chance to pull off their first road win ever. Like I said, I’m not giving up on this team, but tonight hurt far worse than the heartbreaker against Wisconsin. There was very little heart shown at all tonight. I am confident that Pikiell and the rest of the coaches will do everything in their power to bring it out of this team once again.