Rutgers suffers seventh straight loss despite showing resiliency
The Rutgers men’s basketball team suffered its seventh consecutive loss Thursday night against No. 9 Iowa, but unlike the previous five, the margin of defeat was less than 20 points.
Before eventually getting outscored, 40-20, in the final 15:47 of the contest, the Scarlet Knights (6-14, 0-7) kept it close against one of the top teams in the country.
The Knights put up a fight against the Hawkeyes, closing an early 11-point deficit to tie the game at multiple points and even take a 30-29 lead with 4:26 remaining in the first half before ultimately falling, 90-76, to their visitors.
The return of freshman Jonathan Laurent was a key factor in Rutgers' best performance since its seven point loss to Indiana Dec. 30., adding depth by bringing the number of available players for Rutgers to eight. The 6-foot-6 forward made some big plays early on, getting his first six points off of putback bank shots on the offensive glass.
While Laurent helped Rutgers keep the game competitive with his play inside, he wasn’t able to bring his team close to a legitimate upset bid alone.
What the Knights managed to do inside, where they outscored the Hawkeyes, 46-38, in the paint, they failed to do past the 3-point line.
Rutgers shot 23.5 percent from beyond the arc in the loss, missing all seven attempts in the first half before finishing with a 4-for-17 showing.
In contrast, Iowa went 11-for-29 from deep.
“That’s why the good teams in the country are good — they have balance and they make shots, and right now, we’re not making shots,” said head coach Eddie Jordan. “They spread their zone out, they went zone and they covered the perimeter, so the inside was good. That’s why we got paint scores.”
Mike Williams hit three treys in the second period, but most came when the Knights were down by double digits.
The sophomore guard wasn’t shy despite his early struggles. Williams came out of the gates firing in the second half, scoring Rutgers’ first seven points and flexing at the camera after getting fouled on a converted lay-up.
“Even though we was playing great in the first half, we didn’t like the way we finished, so we just told each other we have to come out strong for the first five minutes and you know, get our swagger, and that’s what I tried to emphasize. I wanted to get the crowd and the fans at home into it.”
Williams and his teammates were successful in getting what appeared to be a lifeless crowd at tip-off on its feet. As the small crowd grew to the final attendance of 4,209, so did the cheers as Rutgers edged closer and closer to catching up to one of the hottest teams in the nation.
While the upset bid came up short and Iowa won its eighth straight game, the Knights did not leave the Rutgers Athletic Center empty handed.
“Every game’s a step forward for us just as a learning standpoint,” said freshman guard Corey Sanders. “We still got a lot of young players, and we’re still trying to work with the injuries that we have, so every game is a learning point for us.”
Every time Rutgers appeared to be hitting its stride and threatened to take its first lead Thursday, Iowa responded immediately.
When Laurent concluded the Knights’ 16-6 run to bring them within one after they trailed 13-2 early on, Ahmad Wagner responded 12 seconds later with a lay up on the other end.
When senior guard Bishop Daniels tied the game at 24, Wagner halted Rutgers’ momentum once more, again with a lay up, again 12 seconds later and again on its next possession.
When senior center Greg Lewis tied the game at 26-26, a couple of possessions later, Anthony Clemmons responded with a trey at the other end.
The Knights were irked to see the Hawkeyes have a response to every basket they made, but they didn’t let themselves get down.
Rutgers scored four straight after Clemmons’ three to take its first — and only — lead.
“(It was) very frustrating, because everytime you make a great play, they come down and hit a three,” Williams said. “It was getting on my nerves, because I don’t like trading baskets with teams, especially the number nine team in the nation … but I think this game we showed everybody that, ‘okay, we’re undermanned, our record is bad, but we’re gonna keep fighting no matter what.”