The only game between ranked foes in college basketball on Wednesday night turned out to be a classic, but unfortunately Rutgers fell just short of pulling out an impressive victory. Iowa scored at will at times and surprisingly the Scarlet Knights almost kept pace, but shot just 35% in the second half despite coming back from 9 down to have a chance to tie in the final seconds. The Hawkeyes survived to win 85-80 behind a monster game from Luka Garza, who had 28 points and 13 rebounds, and overall made more plays down the stretch.
It was a good start for Rutgers who led 12-10 at the first TV timeout. They were playing with energy and confidence. Montez Mathis made two free throws after the timeout, but Iowa started making shots and switched to a matchup zone on the defensive end. It resulted in a 10-0 run. The Hawkeyes were 4 of 6 from three-point range at this point and led by 6 points.
As Rutgers has done all season, they battled back with their own 6-0 run to tie it as Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson and Jacob Young each scored a basket. Then Luka Garza caught fire scoring four baskets in less than a three minute stretch, but Iowa only led 28-27 at this point. That was because Akwasi Yeboah was answering for Rutgers after a big three-pointer and nice inside move knifing through the Iowa defense for the bucket.
Caleb McConnell then hit a three, Shaq Carter hit a key basket after two travel violations earlier in the game and Yeboah knocked down a deep ball with Garza’s hand in his face. RU led 35-28 with just over four minutes left in the opening frame. Iowa’s Joe Toussaint scored six points in a row and Rutgers was held without a field goal over three minutes. However, Yeboah stepped up again and made an important three to give Rutgers a 39-34 lead with over a minute remaining. A Harper Jr. layup on a McConnell assist gave RU a 43-38 lead at the half. Iowa head coach Fran McCaffrey was livid with the officials on not calling a foul on the Hawkeyes and was given a technical.
Iowa shot 62% from the floor and made 5 of 12 from three-point range in the first half, while Geo Baker was scoreless and Jacob Young had 2 points. Surprisingly, Rutgers still led 43-38 behind 59% shooting and 6 of 11 from behind the arc. Akwasi Yeboah was in a zone, making 5 of 6 shots including 3 of 4 from deep for 13 points. The two teams were even on the boards (12-12) and with points in the paint (18-18), but Iowa committed 8 turnovers as RU held a 17-4 advantage with points off of turnovers. Luka Garza led Iowa with 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting, but he didn’t score in the final 7:15 of the half after giving the Hawkeyes a 28-27 lead. Rutgers finished the half on a 16-10 run.
McConnell shot the free throws for McCaffrey’s technical, making one of two. Pikiell made a great call on the offensive possession, as Myles Johnson flashed his passing ability from the top of the key on an alley-oop to Harper Jr. and Rutgers led by 8 points right out of the break.
Iowa battled back and a Joe Wieskamp three-point play the hard way tied it at 46-46 less than three minutes into the second half. Soon after, Harper Jr. responded with his own version to give Rutgers a 51-48 lead. The Scarlet Knights had a chance to extend it further after a Paul Mulcahy steal, but Geo Baker hit the side of the backboard on a corner three. Ryan Kreiner knocked down a huge three and then he scored a layup to take the lead. Shaq Carter scored inside to tie it, but Joe Toussaint continued to penetrate the Rutgers defense and made another basket. Not to be outdone, Harper Jr. drained a jumper on the next possession. The score was tied at 55 at the 14:27 to play as the two teams were playing at a high level.
After two Garza free throws and another Wieskamp three-point play on a make had Iowa leading 60-55. Yeboah scored on the other end, but Garza got to the line again and made both. The Hawkeyes held an 11-4 edge on the boards and were 6 of 7 from the line in the first seven minutes of the second half to outscore Rutgers 24-14 at this point in the game. McConnell was on the bench with four fouls, which hurt this team as well.
Jacob Young turned it over on the next possession and then Garza continued to be on a mission for redemption, knocking down a contested three with Myles Johnson right there defensively. He soon after made another contested jumper in Johnson’s face and Iowa had a commanding 67-59 lead with 11:25 to play. Garza was unstoppable and had 28 points on 11 of 15 shooting and 11 rebounds at this point in the game. There wasn’t much reason to think he would slow down the rest of the way.
It was 69-59 when Jacob Young drew a key charge on the defensive end. Baker then scored his first basket on a drive in the paint and a Mulcahy layup kept Rutergs in the game, trailing by six points with 8 minutes remaining. Both teams were in the bonus and with as much as Iowa had outplayed Rutgers since halftime, Steve Pikiell’s club was within striking distance.
With just over six minutes to play, Harper Jr. attacked the rim in transition, but Garza drew the charge for a big moment in the game, with the Hawkeyes leading by 7 points. Iowa led by 9 points with four minutes remaining before Harper Jr. hit a big three-pointer to make it 76-70 Iowa. The Rutgers defense was stepping up as the Hawkeyes were mired in a seven plus minute stretch without a field goal.
Yeboah made two free throws after the last media timeout and Pikiell dialed up fullcourt pressure which led to a Jacob Young steal. He found Harper Jr., who scored in the paint and drew the foul, completing the three-point play to cut the lead to 1. Rutgers continued the fullcourt pressure and forced a turnover as Iowa failed to inbounds the ball in time. Harper Jr. then drew a foul on the perimeter and made both to give RU the lead behind a 10-0 run.
On the next possession, Toussaint drew a foul, but missed both. However, the ball went off of Harper Jr. under the rim and Iowa retained possession. Fredrick ended a 10 plus minutes drought without a field goal to give Iowa the lead on a layup. Yeboah missed a deep three and on the next Iowa possession, Wieskamp hit a three at the top of the key. Pikiell called a timeout with Iowa up 81-77 with 1:21 to play.
Out of the timeout, Harper Jr. attacked the rim and was fouled by Garza in the paint. He made both free throws and it was a 2 point game with just over a minute left in the game. Rutgers got a key defensive stop and Jacob Young split the defense to get to the rim, but he missed the layup with just under 20 seconds to play. It would have tied the game, but instead Connor McCaffrey made both free throws after getting fouled off of the rebound. He made two more and Iowa won it 85-80.
The whistle certainly seemed to be blown a bit more liberally in the second half after McCaffrey’s freak out on the officials, as Iowa made 17 of 21 freebies after just 1 of 4 from the foul line in the opening frame. However, don’t blame this loss on the officiating. Rutgers got beaten by a great offensive team. Garza was as good as advertised and dominated for long stretches in the game. Joe Toussaint was a problem with dribble penetration and his ability to make plays. Joe Wieskamp is a steady scorer who made baskets in key spots in the game. And Connor McCaffrey made key free throws when Iowa needed him too. They are a legitimate good team and Rutgers keeping as close as they did was a bit surprising.
Iowa (14-5; 5-3) shot 53% from the floor and 9 of 25 from three-point range for 36%. Rutgers shot 46% for the game and despite shooting 7 of 21 from three, they were just 1 of 10 in the second half. Both teams shot over 20 free throws and made 71%-72%. Rutgers stayed in it behind a +6 turnover margin and 26-12 advantage in points off of turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.
Ron Harper Jr. loves playing in Carver-Hawkeye arena after scoring 27 points last season, he topped it with 29 points on 10 of 14 shooting and grabbed 9 rebounds. He stepped up in key moments and hit some big shots. Akwasi Yeboah led a strong first half for Rutgers, but he couldn’t replicate it in the second half. He finished with 17 points on 6 of 11 shots. Myles Johnson added 10 points and 4 rebounds. Geo Baker came off the bench for the third straight game and is clearly not back to his usual form, finishing with just 4 points on 1 of 6 shooting.
Despite the loss, it was an encouraging effort from Rutgers. They never fell out of the game and despite playing subpar defense for stretches, they played well offensively and clamped down defensively down the stretch to almost pull out the win. The Young miss in the closing seconds is a bit haunting, but there should be little doubt this team will learn from this and respond positively. They are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten.
It’s a disappointing loss, but they acquitted themselves well in the program’s first game as a ranked team in 41 years. They are a tough, deep and versatile team that never quits. That didn’t change despite the setback. Rutgers amazingly held Iowa without a basket for over ten minutes and was down 9 points with just over 5 minutes to play before fighting back to have a chance to tie it in the final seconds. That’s a gutsy loss.
Up next, Rutgers returns to the friendly confines of the RAC to host Nebraska on Saturday, followed by Purdue next Tuesday. This was a disappointing loss after the Scarlet Knights outplayed Iowa in the first half, but the Hawkeyes deserved to win with the way they knocked Rutgers off its feet in the second half. There is now a short turnaround with the Scarlet Knights hosting the Cornhuskers for a Saturday matinee. It’s important they put this loss behind them and stay on track at the RAC this weekend.