Rutgers suffers worst home loss of season against Iowa
Days after nearly upsetting the top ranked team in the Big Ten in a game that demonstrated all the progress it has made under first-year head coach Steve Pikiell, the Rutgers men’s basketball team responded with a performance reminiscent of the struggles it showed in the final year of Eddie Jordan’s tenure as its head coach last season.
Despite a gritty performance from co-captains Mike Williams and Deshawn Freeman, who led the Scarlet Knights with a combined 33 points and half of the team’s 44 rebounds, Rutgers was dominated by visiting Iowa from start to finish.
The hosts fell into a deep hole early and were unable to recover in a 83-63 loss, the worst at the Rutgers Athletic Center this season and their largest since a 93-65 blowout at the hands of Michigan State in East Lansing earlier this month.
"We weren't ready to play. I'm disappointed," Pikiell said. "We're not the toughest team in the world, as you saw today, and we really got to get better. That was not how we want people to think about Rutgers basketball and the way we've been playing all season long."
The Knights (12-11, 1-9) were lethargic out of the gate, turning the ball over five times in the first five minutes, and didn’t get much better. They turned the ball over 10 times in the first 20 minutes, which led directly to 13 points for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa (13-10, 5-5), on the other hand, looked like it couldn’t miss in an energetic start.
Despite playing without Big Ten leading scorer Peter Jok, the Hawkeyes hit 15 of their first 24 attempts from the floor, including seven of their first nine three-point attempts and a stretch of eight consecutive made attempts.
They finished the first half with a 51.5 percent clip despite missing eight of their final nine shots of the half. Iowa was led by Jordan Bohannan, who hit his first four shots before finishing with 17 points on 66 percent shooting, including a 5-for-7 mark from beyond the arc.
“Flawless," said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery of his point guard's performance. "He was spectacular. Ran the offense, no turnovers, loaded people up, made shots (and) shot when he was open. He’s terrific.”
The result was complete control from the visitors, who led by double-digits from less than five minutes in until the end.
While Rutgers made the occasional run to close the gap, it didn't last long as Iowa would quickly clamp down. A 4-0 run from the Knights to cut into an early 7-0 deficit was countered by a monster 25-6 stretch from the Hawkeyes.
Rutgers closed the first half on a 12-6 run, holding Iowa without a field goal for over six minutes, but the Knights still trailed by 18 at the half, the 48-30 deficit being its largest at halftime of the season.
“It was not a happy message. He was obviously very disappointed as you can see,” said junior walk-on guard Jake Dadika, who played a career-high 20 minutes, of Pikiell’s halftime message. “The lack of effort or lack of hustle or whatever you want to call it. Obviously we all got together after too and we said we can’t be having that anymore.”
It would have taken a monumental comeback for Rutgers to reverse the deficit, aspirations that were crushed by the Hawkeyes, 16 seconds after restarting play. That’s how long it took for Isaiah Moss to find a flying Ahmad Wagner for an uncontested alley-oop dunk.
On the other end, the Knights began the second half with a sequence that perfectly encapsulated the type of night they were having — they got seven straight offensive rebounds and eight shots, but missed every single one.
It only got worse from there as Iowa continued to build its lead to a game-high 28 points with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game. By that point, Pikiell had pulled two starters — sophomore guard Corey Sanders (8 points, three rebounds, two assists and five turnovers in 22 minutes) and freshman forward Eugene Omoruyi (2 points, one rebound, four assists, one turnover in 12 minutes) — from the game.
Junior guard Nigel Johnson didn’t appear at all in the second half after playing just six minutes in the first half. He appeared to limp off the court at the under-12 media timeout and it didn’t look better when he came back six minutes later. Johnson would limp after missing a wide-open three-point attempt and struggled to follow his man on defense, barely getting off the ground on a close out.
His status was not specified by Pikiell post-game.
“I don’t know, I don’t even know what happened to him,” Pikiell said. “He couldn’t go back in the game so I have no idea what happened there.”
The loss closes out the worst month of the first three Pikiell has spent in Piscataway. Rutgers went 1-8 in January, closing it with its lowest valley shortly after the highest peak.
The Knights will have three days to prepare for Penn State, likely without Johnson or sophomore forward Jonathan Laurent, who missed a second straight game with a right-foot injury.
But in Pikiell’s eyes, there are no excuses.
“There’s nothing to do," he said of injuries. "The guys we put on the floor have to play better than that. We have injuries, everyone has obstacles, a setback (in the loss to No. 10 Wisconsin) on Saturday, if you want to call it that, but we’re better than that.”