Rutgers can avenge previous No. 22 Iowa loss on road
Heading into Saturday’s game against Iowa, there will only be one thing on the minds of the Rutgers men’s basketball team: Revenge.
Two weeks ago, the Scarlet Knights (13-14, 6-11) were on the cusp of a dramatic win over the then No. 21 Hawkeyes (21-7, 10-7) in front of a sold-out crowd inside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
Sophomore guard Geo Baker had just made a 3-pointer to give his team the lead, and the student section was itching to storm the court to congratulate him and his teammates.
But with the game clock ticking down to zero, Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp heaved a shot up from the corner which inexplicably banked off the backboard and swished in, earning himself a spot in the Rutgers Hall of Infamy.
The Hawkeyes stole one from the Knights, plain and simple. They knew it too, as Rutgers players could hear them celebrating inside their locker room beyond the wall.
“If he shoots that shot a million times, that’s the only one that’s going in,” said true freshman guard Ron Harper Jr. after the game. “It’s just a lucky shot.”
Now, two weeks later, the Knights haven’t forgotten.
How could they after losing to a team they clearly thought and looked like they were capable of beating on a last-second shot inside their home court?
But just because Rutgers smells blood doesn’t mean it will leave Iowa City, Iowa with a win.
“We're heading to a real tough venue, with senior night in Iowa against a really good, ranked Iowa team,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “You can talk about it, and that’s great, but all the talk in the world doesn’t get you to do what you need to do in these kinds of environments.”
Regardless, it’s been a tough three-game stretch for Iowa since the Knights have last seen it, losing 2 out of 3, including most recently a 20-point blowout against Ohio State, and currently sitting in sixth place in the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, Rutgers is coming off a win at home against Minnesota in which the team avenged an ugly loss to the Golden Gophers (17-11, 7-10) six weeks ago.
On Saturday, the Knights hope they can do it again.
“These challenges are exciting, but we have to go in there with the right mindset,” Pikiell said. “It's a whole different challenge that we are up against when we go on the road. We have to play great basketball on both ends of the floor to be able to have success.”
Recently, Rutgers has been doing that, especially on the defensive end. Over its last four games, the Knights haven’t allowed more than 71 points and held each opponent below their scoring average.
As for scoring, Rutgers continues to lean on Baker, who came on strong in the final minutes of the game against Minnesota, as well as junior forward Eugene Omoruyi and true freshman guard Montez Mathis.
“I'm excited about our development and how our guys have improved. And there's still better days ahead for our young players. Our guys come to practice every day with a great mindset,” Pikiell said.
Even though Pikiell is excited about the continued improvement from his young players, there are still a lot of things that they have yet to experience.
And although the learning curve hasn’t been all that curvy, there are some things that you can’t practice and just have to live through. Saturday’s game will be one of those things.
“They don’t have all the answers. They’ve never played a ranked team on senior night on the road in a sold-out venue. They go through things for the first time. You’re just going to have to play well,” Pikiell said.
Nevertheless, the Knights are ready to prove their doubters wrong once again and can’t wait for the rematch everybody’s been waiting for.
“We’re going to go get them,” Baker, who doesn’t normally let his emotions get to him, said. “It’s the same thing as with Northwestern. We’re going to go get them.”
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