Rutgers responds to ugly loss with dominant win over Iowa at home
Knights cruise by Hawkeyes, shooting 41 percent from deep
Sometimes, a lack of consistency is a good thing. The Rutgers men's basketball team found that out again, as it followed up a sluggish effort versus Ohio State with a dominating performance against Iowa from start to finish. The Scarlet Knights (12-8, 2-5) cruised to an 80-64 victory over the Hawkeyes (10-10, 1-6) at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
Rutgers had a renaissance offensively, improving from a dismal 29-percent line last time out against the Buckeyes to a 54-percent field-goal percentage versus Iowa Wednesday night.
"Tonight we just distributed the ball well," said junior guard Corey Sanders, who capped his 18-point, eight-assist night with a thunderous one-handed slam in the final minute. "We were able to make some shots ... just felt good for us to see some shots go down and to share the ball and (for) everybody (to) get involved."
Not the most prolific team from the 3-point line either — going into the matchup ranked last in the Big Ten, shooting 30 percent — the Knights showed up with a 41-percent clip, led by sophomore and freshman guards Issa Thiam and Geo Baker.
Thiam dipped into double-digits Wednesday night — the majority of his points coming from the 3-ball — as the Senegal native finished the night with a 4-of-6 mark from downtown.
"Obviously that makes a big difference, and he really got us off to a good start," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "But, we were high-energy from the beginning of the game, it was a good thing, and that's how we have to play."
Similarly, Baker worked well within Rutgers' perimeter-focused offense, going 3-of-5 from 3 to complement a 17-point day.
It was a welcome change of pace for a team better known for defending the 3 then making it.
One of the more interesting matchups going into Wednesday's contest was Iowa's Jordan Bohannon coming up against the best perimeter defense in the Big Ten, a team he had no problem dismantling from behind the arc last year, shooting 5-of-7 from 3.
Bohannon proved just as dominant from deep this year, shooting 5-of-9 from 3 — as part of a game-leading 23 points — and being one of the few bright spots on a Hawkeye side that largely failed to produce offensively against the Knights.
Tyler Cook joined Bohannon in that regard, with the two combining for the first 15 points of the game for Iowa.
Though Bohannon got himself open on the perimeter and Cook found space in the paint, much of Iowa's offensive woes came out of Rutgers applying pressure and forcing turnovers from the get-go.
The Hawkeyes' offense was rife with errant passes and getting out on transition defense, with the Knights forcing 17 turnovers out of the visitors, nine of them coming from steals.
Countering Iowa's Cook-and-Bohannon-led offense was a Rutgers side that shared the wealth with the ball, with eight different players getting on the board for the Knights.
One of those was sophomore forward Matt Bullock, who stepped on the court for the first time this season and recorded his first career points.
"It was a great moment for me," Bullock said. "I just wanted to bring energy to the team."
With senior guard Mike Williams' absence, there were a lot of shifts in rotations for Rutgers Wednesday night, as Bullock and senior guard Jake Dadika played important early minutes for the Knights, filling out the backcourt and eating up some of Williams' minutes.
Pikiell said after the loss against Ohio State that switching around lineups was not something he was looking forward to, but the varied minutes seemed to pay off in what was Rutgers' strongest conference win of the season after one of its worst losses of the campaign.
It is a seesaw-like trend the Knights have seen following good games — as seen after beating Seton Hall and playing then-No. 4 Michigan State to overtime.
With that in mind, perhaps one of the tougher matchups Rutgers can come up against next is a ranked program in No. 23 Michigan on the road.
But with four days separating an Iowa win from a Michigan contest, there is a lot of belief within the squad that it will be able to recover a lot better than it has in the past. Wednesday's victory over the Hawkeyes, with everyone having a hand in, could very well be a good omen for the Knights.
"All hands on deck ... Every guy that got into the basketball game really responded," Pikiell said. "I told them 'you always gotta be ready, you never know what the situation is' ... so good team win today, and everybody was able to contribute."
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