The stage was set in Piscataway on Saturday afternoon.
No. 14 Rutgers played their second straight game at home when they hosted No. 10 Iowa. Naismith Player of the Year favorite Luka Garza came into the game averaging 27.7 points per contest, which leads the nation. Ron Harper Jr. scores 23.4 points per game to lead Rutgers and is third in the Big Ten.
It was a dogfight until the final buzzer when Rutgers was taken down by Iowa, and the free throw line, 77-75.
Rutgers was outscored 18-4 from the charity stripe in this one and it was not just because of lack of attempts. The Scarlet Knights finished just 4-12 from the line and it proved to be a huge factor in this one.
Coming into the game, Rutgers was prepared to get Harper Jr. back along with Caleb McConnell. Freshman big Cliff Omoruyi was still sidelined with an injury but Myles Johnson was able to step up against one of the best in the country.
Johnson finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds including a tip in with 1:11 to go in the second half to give the Scarlet Knights a 73-72 lead. Following a timeout, Iowa was able to draw up a play to get Jordan Bohannon a midrange jumper to give the Hawkeyes the lead. Geo Baker responded with a layup on the other end but it did not take Iowa long to regain the lead. Keegan Murray knocked down two free throws and Iowa was able to escape with a hard-fought victory.
Johnson was one of four players with 13 points as Rutgers continued their balanced attack on the offensive end. Harper Jr., along with Baker and Montez Mathis, all finished with 13 points. Jacob Young led the way with 17 points for the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers had a chance with late in the second half but Johnson was unable to handle a pass down low and it ricocheted out of bounds with 4.4 seconds left. This will not take anything away from the job the big man was able to do. Johnson was able to go toe-to-toe with Garza all game without getting into foul trouble, finishing with three in the game. On the offensive end, Johnson was able to gain position all afternoon and rebounded well on both ends, finishing with five rebounds on both ends.
Garza was held to just 10 points in the first half. The Hawkeyes made it a point to get the ball to him in the second half. At one point, Garza was able to score 14 of 19 points for Iowa as they climbed ahead in the contest. He finished with 25 points and nine rebounds.
There are no moral victories in the Big Ten but the Scarlet Knights showed that they can contend with any team in the nation as they held Iowa to just 77 points after averaging 94.3 per game over the first 10. At this point, it is on to Michigan State. Rutgers will travel to East Lansing to take on the No. 17 Spartans on Tuesday night.