The Iowa Hawkeyes took on a road challenge Saturday evening in Piscataway, New Jersey facing off with Steve Pikiell’s Rutgers squad. The “RAC” (Rutgers Athletic Center) was sold out for the fourth time this season and created a hostile environment for the Hawks. Rutgers came into tonight’s competition with a respectable 9-5 record at home this season.
The Hawkeyes came off a six day rest period but appeared to come out of the gates a little sloppy. An opening possession steal and slam set the tone for a solid outing by the Rutgers defense. A Gritty defense was not the only strength for Rutgers early on, they also reeked benefit of solid length and size, leading to a game total of 14 offensive rebounds.
Things started off pretty similar with Luka Garza picking up an early foul at the 18:58 mark in the first half, something that has reoccurred during recent games. Defensively, Iowa started out in a 2/3 zone but had a hard time containing the Scarlet Knights dribble-drive attack. A solid 14 point first half performance by Ron Harper Jr. kept Rutgers with the advantage on the scoreboard most of the first half. The Hawkeyes did a much better job on the freshman forward in the second half, as he was only able to tally up 2 points.
I would describe Iowa’s effort on the offensive end as relentless all night. Some shots were not consistently falling and Iowa ended up with 15 total turnovers-3 higher than the season average. For most of the game Iowa called Isaiah Moss’ number as the redshirt junior guard scored 17 points. However, Jordan Bohannon’s free throws and big shots allowed him to be the team’s leading scorer tonight with 18 points.
At the under 8 media timeout Iowa lead 56-53, and this was just one of those games that felt like it would come down to the wire. Sure enough, the Hawkeyes found themselves in another “instant classic”. Jordan Bohannon had a rare miss at the free throw line with around 26.2 seconds left, allowing Rutgers to take possession facing a deficit of just two with the ball. Steve Pikiell elected to call a timeout with 13 seconds left. After the timeout Sophomore guard Geo Baker hit a step back 3 pointer, allowing the Scarlet Knights to take a 69-68 advantage with 3.2 seconds left.
After an Iowa timeout, Connor McCaffery threw a deep pass which looked much like an outfielder in baseball trying to throw a runner out at the plate, as both his father and UI baseball coach Rick Heller have both taken advantage of his strong arm. After some slight deflections the pass found its way into the corner, where true freshman and Muscatine, Iowa native Joe Wieskamp shot and banked in a 3 pointer with 0.2 on the game clock, leading to a 71-69 Hawkeye Victory. A shot that will be remembered for years to come.
The Hawkeyes now find themselves winners of four straight and improve to 20-5 overall. Iowa basketball is at the most exciting point in the Fran McCaffery era, and looks to find a 21st win Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 7:00 PM (CT) against the 24th ranked Maryland Terrapins. Fran McCaffery has now led Iowa to 20 wins or more in 5 of the last 7 seasons.
Finishing the regular season strong and playing the best basketball at the end of the season should allow the Hawkeyes to make a good run the rest of the way leading into March Madness. Iowa certainly has not played to its full potential the last couple games, but has still found a way to win. That is what great teams do. This season has a chance to be really special, one of the best in Hawkeye history from a wins perspective. With that being said, there is still plenty of work to be done in what has proven to be a grueling Big Ten Conference.
Buckle up Hawkeye fans, it’s going to be a wild ride.