What a night for the Rutgers men’s basketball team, who put forth a dominant performance at the RAC against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Playing in its second contest without senior captain Mike Williams, the Scarlet Knights put together a strong first half performance that took Iowa completely out of the game. It was almost a year to the day that Iowa blew out Rutgers by 20 points at the RAC without its senior star, Peter Jok, who was injured. Consider the favor returned, as Rutgers rolled to a 80-64 victory to improve to 12-8 on the season and 2-5 in Big Ten play.
Rutgers came out with energy and purpose in this game, something that was a must for them to establish control. They took an 11-4 lead just six minutes into the game, as Iowa started 2 of 11 from the field. The Scarlet Knights were sharing the basketball and in rhythm early on, exemplified by this great lob pass from Geo Baker to Deshawn Freeman.
However, after the first media timeout of the game, Jordan Bohannon, who entered the game shooting 43.7% from behind the arc, hit three-pointers on back to back possessions, followed by another one soon after. Iowa took a 13-11 lead with 12:04 to play in the first half. Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey gave Bohannon a breather and the Hawkeyes quickly lost the lead and they never regained it the rest of the way.
Off of a Geo Baker steal, Deshawn Freeman had a windmill dunk that sparked an impressive 12-0 run for the home team.
First one of these I've seen in B1G play this season pic.twitter.com/OIxQ1nBzC2— Alex Roux (@arouxBTN) January 18, 2018
On the next possession, Corey Sanders made the extra pass to find a wide open Issa Thiam in the corner for his second three-pointer of the game, giving Rutgers a 16-13 lead midway through the half. The lead quickly ballooned to 10 points with 7:50 left in the half. There was so much happening in such a short period of time. While Iowa was mired in a 4-plus minute scoreless stretch, Issa and Baker each hit a shot behind the arc. Even sophomore guard Matt Bullock saw the court for the first time this season and it was just the third game of his Rutgers career. At one point, senior walk-on captain Jake Dadika and Bullock were on the floor at the same time.
The first half belonged to Issa Thiam and Geo Baker, as they scored 14 and 12 points respectively. Issa made 4 of 6 three-pointers in the opening frame, while Geo made 2 of 3 from behind the arc. Thiam did limp off right after he completed his hot streak, but he returned soon after. As a team, Rutgers shot 50% from the floor in the first half and held a 10-2 edge in points off of turnovers. Iowa shot just 36% from the field and committed 8 turnovers. Jordan Bohannon had four three-pointers as well, but the rest of his teammates only scored 12 points on 6 of 20 shooting in the first half.
Rutgers continued to shred the zone of Iowa through great ball movement and tremendous shooting after the break. With a 40-26 lead early on in the second half, Rutgers was patient and Corey Sanders was able to penetrate and dish outside to an open Baker, who calmly drained his third three-pointer of the game. That sparked an 11-2 run that included Matt Bullock’s first points of his Rutgers career on a jumper as the shot clock was expiring. A Nicholas Baer three-pointer halted the fun, but Rutgers still lead 51-31 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game.
Both teams fell into a scoring funk, but Iowa’s Maishe Dailey, the former Rutgers commit, drew the seventh foul of the half, putting the Hawkeyes in the bonus the rest of the way. It didn’t matter. The Scarlet Knights struggled from the field, falling into a 1 of 7 shooting funk. However, Iowa went cold from the floor as well and after an emphatic slam dunk by Eugene Omoruyi, Rutgers led 58-39 with just over 7 minutes to play. It was assisted on by Bullock. Iowa’s Baer hit back to back three-pointer’s late and cut the lead to 62-49 with 3:54 remaining. It got even closer, as Iowa fouled Rutgers often in the last three minutes and cut the lead to 68-58 with 1:52 remaining. However, Issa Thiam’s first points of the second half were timely, as he sank both free throws. Corey Sanders then delivered a one handed dunk in traffic that sent the RAC faithful into a frenzy.
Rutgers made their last ten free throw attempts down the stretch and were an impressive 15 of 20 for the game from the line. They finished the game on a 12-4 run.
As fun as it was to watch Rutgers on offense in this game, the defense against Iowa was superb. The Hawkeyes came to Piscataway averaging 82 points a game and shooting 48% from the field for the season. The Scarlet Knights held them to 64 points and 39% shooting from the floor. While Bohannon had a big night with a game high 23 points, only three other players scored 8 or more points on a team that has eight players averaging close to 6 points per game.
Rutgers shot an impressive 54% from the field in the contest, including 7 of 16 from three-point range. Although Iowa held a +4 edge on the boards, RU held a +6 turnover margin, as Iowa gave it away 17 times in the game. Rutgers dominated with points in the paint, holding a 34-22 edge and an impressive 16-2 edge on fast break points. They even dished out 18 assists as a team.
In addition, the ball movement on offense, particularly in the first half, was tremendous for Rutgers tonight. Corey Sanders struggled with his shooting for most of the game, but was phenomenal in creating space for Issa and Geo on the perimeter with dribble penetration. He ended up dishing out 8 assists and had just 2 turnovers. His patience paid off, as Sanders finished strong and had a team high 18 points on 6 of 13 shooting, putting together a complete performance.
Issa Thiam didn’t do much offensively after he tweaked something late in the first half, but his 14 points in the opening frame off of 4 of 6 shooting from behind the arc helped set the tone and gave Rutgers a big cushion they never surrendered. He did appear to be fine and played well defensively in the second frame. He finished with 16 points and 2 rebounds.
Geo Baker had the more complete game, putting together a line of 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting, as well as 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. He was also 3 of 5 from deep. Deshawn Freeman put together a solid 14 point, 8 rebound effort. Eugene Omoruyi had his fourth consecutive game in drawing two charges and now has 17 on the season. He added 6 points and 5 rebounds. Candido Sa played good interior defense and added 6 points, as well as 3 boards.
Rutgers now heads back on the road to take on #23 Michigan (16-4; 5-2) for a matinee this Sunday. This was a big win for the Scarlet Knights, who needed this victory to keep hope alive for the program’s first winning campaign in 12 years. Rutgers is now in sole possession of 12th place with many winnable games remaining. This team still has a lot of work to do, but tonight was truly a fun game to watch them play together. It was a great response after Sunday’s clunker against Ohio State and showed that this team has plenty of fight left in them.
For Dave White’s Four Thoughts, click here.
To read Brian Fonseca’s coverage of the postgame presser, click here.