It was clear that Rutgers felt scorned after losing in heartbreaking fashion to Iowa on a last second bank three-pointer from the corner two weeks ago. This young team swore they were coming for the Hawkeyes in the rematch and they were able to get even in a big way on Saturday night, blowing out no. 22/21 Iowa 86-72 on its home court on senior night. It was the first road win against a ranked team in 11 years and the first time they’ve had two ranked wins in a season for the program in 7 years. The Scarlet Knights played tremendous defense holding the highest scoring team in Big Ten play 5 points below it’s season average. In addition, Rutgers made 11 of 23 shots from three-point range to deliver a huge statement to the Big Ten that this team will be a handful the rest of the way.
First Half Summary
Down 7-3, Mathis drove, got caught up and found Ron Harper Jr. open for a three and promptly drained it. It seemed to click on the confidence for the entire team, as it started an 11-3 run behind three makes from behind the arc. Two for Harper and corner three for McConnell. Good ball movement and stifling defense led to Iowa calling a timeout trailing 18-12 with 11:07 left in the opening frame. The Hawkeyes were without a field goal for over three minutes and had already committed 5 turnovers at this point. It was a very good start on the road against a ranked foe. Baker had just 1 point and Omoruyi hadn’t taken a shot yet.
On the next possession, Omoruyi slipped and his left knee gave out. He limped off but sat on the bench seemingly okay. He only scored 2 points in the game though and was clearly hurting, but gutted through the game with 21 minutes, adding 5 assists and 2 rebounds.
The growth in this team was apparent, as they extended the lead without its captain, extending the score to 25-15. Nothing was coming easy for Iowa, while Rutgers was playing smart on both ends of the floor.
Omoruyi returned and Iowa flashed a 1-3-1 zone, but Harper Jr. made his third three of the game to extend the lead to 11 points. Iowa was mired in a 1 of 11 shooting stretch. At the under-four media timeout, Rutgers led 30-20 as Iowa was shooting just 33% from the floor and the Scarlet Knights held a 14-4 edge with points in the paint.
Harper Jr. missed an open three and the lone Iowa senior Nicholas Baer made his from the corner to cut the lead to 30-25. Rutgers was experiencing its own shooting slump, making just 1 of its last 9 shots. However, on its next possession, Issa Thiam of all people who had just checked into the game for the first time, knocked down a step back three in the corner to extend the lead back to 8 points. After Iowa scored on its next possession, Rutgers continued sound ball movement and Issa did it again, hitting back to back three’s.
The issue for Rutgers was that Omoruyi picked up his second foul soon after, joining Shaq Carter, Myles Johnson, Caleb McConnell and Montez Mathis with two each. It was a reason to be concerned for later in the game. Even so, Issa hit his third straight three before Jordan Bohannon answered. Iowa trailed by the most they had all season at the half with Rutgers leading 39-30.
Rutgers was 7 of 15 from three-point range, more than they made in the last 16 games and they did it in just one half. Iowa was just 3 of 10 from deep and shot just 38% overall. The craziest part at this point in the game was the fact that Baker, Omoruyi and Montez Mathis had combined for just 3 points.
Second Half Summary
Rutgers came out strong after the break and jumped out to a 47-32 lead in the first three minutes of the second half. Omoruyi soon after picked up his third foul. Foul trouble continued as Shaq Carter picked up his fourth with 13:52 to play as Rutgers already had 6 fouls in the half. After two Bohannon free throws and a RU turnover after full court pressure, Steve Pikiell wisely called a timeout with a 50-37 lead to settle them down. Iowa soon entered the bonus and made four consecutive free throws to cut the lead to 9. Omoruyi and Carter each had four fouls with over 13 minutes to play.
Geo Baker made his first field goal when Rutgers needed it badly, driving for a layup and pushing the lead back to double digits. However, on the next Iowa possession, Shaq Carter fouled out with 12:08 to play. Even so Iowa was 1 of its last 9 from the floor and trailed 52-42 with 12 minutes to play. Baker than knocked down a huge three against the Iowa zone to push the lead to 13 points.
Rutgers attacked the 2-3 zone with great ball movement after the timeout and Mathis knocked down a mid-range shot. After Iowa made two more free throws, it was 57-44 at the midway point of the second half. However, the Hawkeyes hadn’t made a field goal in over six minutes.
Ron Harper Jr. then knocked down his fourth three-pointer of the game and Rutgers lead by 16 points, the largest lead of the game. Baker then his second from behind the arc and Rutgers led 63-44 with under nine minutes to play.
After the lead extended to 21 points, senior Nicholas Baer ended an almost 10 minutes stretch for Iowa by making a field goal. It was a little too late for the Hawkeyes, as Rutgers was putting on a defensive clinic in front of a sold out venue. The Scarlet Knights were in the middle of making 8 of 9 shots from the field.
Iowa was in full desperation mode and went on a 11-2 run to cut the lead to 72-60 with under four minutes to play. However, out of the timeout, Rutgers easily broke the full court pressure for an easy dunk for Harper Jr. and Mathis then stole it and dunked it to push the lead back to 16 points.
Soon after a Bohannon three cut the lead back to 12 points with less than three minutes to play. Mathis drew a foul but missed both free throws, but Rutgers got the ball back after Iowa tipped it out of bounds. Baker then found McConnell down low who scored a huge bucket. The Scarlet Knights won the game
The Game Changed When
Iowa went into the bonus with 13:21 to play in the game trailing 50-37, but were able to get back into the game on the free throw line and Rutgers in major foul trouble.
It Was Over When
After Rutgers seemed in trouble as the fouls piled up midway in the second half, they made back to back three’s to lead by 19 points and less than nine minutes to play. Carver-Hawkeye Arena had the air let out and it was clear Iowa was done with its fans in shock. Iowa never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
For Iowa, senior Nicholas Baer led the way with 17 points on 5 of 14 shooting as well as 6 rebounds.
For Rutgers, Ron Harper Jr. had the best game of his college career so far with a game high 27 points on 9 of 13 shooting, including 4 of 7 from three-point range. He added 5 rebounds and was a huge factor on the offensive end in a game Rutgers desperately needed someone to step up. He has been the most efficient player in Big Ten play for the Scarlet Knights and delivered a complete performance in this game.
Rutgers shot 51% from the floor, only the second time in 18 Big Ten games they made more than half their shots. That included 11 of 23 from three-point range, which was unbelievable. More so though, Iowa shot just 36% from the field and only 8 of 29 (28%) from three-point range. Stunning stats for sure. Rutgers gave the Hawkeyes nothing easy on the offensive end the entire game.
It was even on the boards and Rutgers had a +1 turnover margin.
Rutgers dominated with a 36-18 advantage with points in the paint and 19-8 with fast break points.
The Scarlet Knights were tremendous with ball movement the entire game and dished out 21 assists on 30 field goals, which is incredible for this team. They handled the multiple zones of Iowa with ease.
Rutgers ended a 38 game losing streak on the road against ranked teams.
Other Rutgers Contributors
Issa Thiam was tremendous off the bench, finishing with 13 points on 4 of 6 from three-point range in just 7 minutes.
Caleb McConnell had 11 points on 3 of 6 shooting and 4 of 4 from the free throw line. He added 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
Montez Mathis had 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting, as well as 3 assists and 3 rebounds.
Geo Baker was just 3 of 9 shooting for 9 points, but was tremendous running the offense, dishing out 9 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds.
What We Learned
This team is growing by leaps and bounds and put together its best performance of the season by dominating a ranked team. With Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi combining for 11 points, 16 points less than their season average, the freshmen four stepped up in a huge way. The future is now with Rutgers basketball, as Harper Jr, Mathis, McConnell and Myles Johnson, who did some good dirty work down low (6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal) and played great defense, all came through tonight. This team has a ton of confidence and legitimate swagger. Rutgers started Big Ten play 1-38 on the road but have now won 3 of its last 5 away from the RAC. They needed a win to stay above the line of the bottom four in the conference standings and came through in a big way. It was their best performance of the season and showed the growth that this team has made in the last six weeks.
Rutgers (14-14; 7-11) heads home for senior day on Wednesday against a very tough Penn State team that almost upset no. 19 Wisconsin on the road earlier in the day. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Rutgers to sweep the season series and pretty much ensure at least an 10th place finish in Big Ten play. With a log jam occurring at the bottom half of the standings, that would be significant for a program that’s finished in the basement in four consecutive seasons.
As to how things stand heading into the last week of the regular season, click here.
For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.