Rutgers hosts Jok-less Iowa with hopes of doubling Big Ten win total
Corey Sanders sat at a podium in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, fresh off, perhaps, the most disappointing loss of his time with the Rutgers men’s basketball team. The impact of the loss was evident as he took questions from the media, his voice low as he spoke.
The sophomore guard, who led the Scarlet Knights with 16 points, said of falling short of an upset of No. 15 Wisconsin, despite holding a 9-point lead, that he felt comfortable with a little over 3 minutes remaining was “hard.”
As disappointed as he was, Sanders was already looking ahead before leaving the arena.
“We’re gonna get back to work (Sunday),” he said. “And beat Iowa at home Tuesday.”
The Hawkeyes, who will come to Piscataway for a 7 p.m. tip-off on Big Ten Network, represent the second leg of Rutgers' revenge tour against the teams they lost to in the first half of the conference schedule.
It was earlier this season in Iowa City, Iowa that the Knights came the closest to earning its first Big Ten away win ever — leading for most of the second half. Like against the Badgers, Rutgers' biggest lead was 9, with just over 10 minutes to go, but unlike Saturday where they let the lead slip in regulation.
"Obviously a 40-minute game," said head coach Steve Pikiell during a post-game interview on the Rutgers Radio Network. "We've been able to string together some 30s and some 20s. This was probably 35 minutes. Just disappointed, but I love our effort. We're getting better — I know people don't want to hear that."
Pikiell has insisted his team has been improving by the day and the overtime loss to the now No. 10 team in the nation was the most ringing endorsement of that claim. Getting revenge against the Hawkeyes would solidify this.
Both teams enter the contest with an identical 12-10 record, but Iowa’s 4-5 clip in Big Ten play — which includes a win over No. 23 Purdue — is more impressive than the Knights’ 1-8 mark.
The Hawkeyes will likely be without Big Ten leading scorer Peter Jok, who missed their game against Ohio State Saturday and didn't practice on Sunday.
“He didn’t practice (Sunday), so we’ll see if he practices today,” said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery on Monday. “I honestly don’t know (if Jok will play at Rutgers).”
Jok is averaging 21 points a game on the season and led all scorers with 18 in the win over Rutgers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last month, but his absence doesn’t spell the end for Iowa. This was evident as the Hawkeyes defeated the Buckeyes soundly, 85-72, at home.
Pikiell has said he prefers to show his team a tape of themselves facing the opposition, but considering the win over Ohio State was the first game Jok did not participate in this season, the Knights will likely implement that film in their game preparation.
Regardless of how the game-plan is prepared, Pikiell is confident his team will be in good shape to double its Big Ten win total.
"These guys have been great, they’ve been resilient," Pikiell said Saturday. "We’ll be well prepared like we were today. I thought our game plan was right where it needed to be. We’ll continue to work on our weaknesses ... but yeah, nothing gets easier in this conference, that’s for sure."