Rutgers 86, #22 Iowa 72: Senior Dazed

By RossWB on March 2, 2019 at 7:26 pm
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Though four months and almost 30 games, Iowa basketball had managed to avoid one thing on their resume: a truly bad loss. Losing by double-digits on the road to the likes of Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State was rough, but losing big on the road to good teams happens. But losing by 14 at home to Rutgers? That's a bad loss. 

While this was a bad loss, it was in no way an undeserved loss. When Iowa and Rutgers clashed a few weeks ago, the result was a tense slugfest that featured both teams trading absolute haymakers in the final seconds, with Iowa coming out on top in about the most improbable way possible. This game was not a tense slugfest; this game was an absolute mauling. Rutgers took control of the game midway through the first half and never looked back. They led by nine at halftime and by double digits for basically the entire second half, spending a good portion of it with a 20-point lead. They dominated Iowa from start to finish in this game.

To give some context to how rare this performance was... Rutgers entered this game at 3-41 in Big Ten road games in their five years in the league. Those three wins came by a combined nine points; their fourth win (today) came with a 14-point margin of victory and, honestly, it was only that close because of largely meaningless late Iowa flurry. The win also gave Rutgers a road win over a ranked team (though Iowa will be long gone from the Top 25 rankings come Monday), something they last accomplished 11 years and three conferences ago (2008 against Pitt in the Big East). 

On offense, Rutgers torched Iowa from deep and in the paint. Rutgers shot 11/23 from 3-point range for the game, including 7/15 in the first half. Rutgers is, generally speaking, a very bad three-point shooting team -- they entered this game shooting 31% from long range for the season, 308th in the nation. 11/23 is... a lot better than that. But it wasn't as if Rutgers was simply making shots out of their asses; they were getting open looks a lot of the time and just draining them. Iowa got absolutely destroyed by Ron Harper, Jr., who set a new career high with 27 points on 9/13 shooting (4/7 from deep) while slicing through Iowa's defense to score at the rim and bombing away from the 3-point line. You might remember him from his previous career high of 16 points, which came against... Iowa. His high in non-Iowa Big Ten games? 15 in an OT loss to Illinois. The other guy who absolutely erupted for Rutgers was Issa Thiam, who had 13 points off the bench on 4/6 shooting from beyond the arc; his three straight corner threes in the first half were back-breaking and helped blow the game open for Rutgers. He entered the game with 17 points in Big Ten games -- TOTAL. 

In fact, Rutgers' perimeter players comprehensively outplayed Iowa in this game. They combined for 70 points; Iowa's perimeter guys had 25. Jordan Bohannon had 15 points, but most came late, with the game out of reach, and on 4/12 shooting (3/9 from deep). Joe Wieskamp had five points on 1/7 shooting, while Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey had zero points on 0/6 shooting. Rutgers also dominated Iowa in fast break points (19-8), points off turnovers (13-6), and points in the paint (36-18).

Rutgers dominated Iowa in energy and hustle; they were the team with excellent ball movement on offense, constantly whipping the ball around to find an open man for a shot, and they were the team getting to all the loose balls. They were also, you know, making field goals. Which seems like a basic thing, but Iowa went over 10 minutes in the second half without managing to do that, so sometimes even the basics can be pretty hard. Turns out it's really hard to win a game when you go 10+ minutes (which was on top of a pair of 4+ minute scoring droughts in the first half) without scoring a basket. Iowa said all the right things about bouncing back after the second half shellacking at Ohio State, but this performance was every bit as flaccid as the one earlier this week. So much for finishing strong in Iowa's final home game of the season, on Senior Day for Nicholas Baer. 

Plenty of players deserve some portion of blame for this loss, but Baer probably deserves the least. Baer brought his usual energy and hustle -- as well as more offensive production than usual. Baer scored a team-high 17 points in his final appearance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the most he's scored for Iowa since a 20-point performance against Penn State in 2017. Granted, he needed 14 shots (5/14) to get those 17 points, but given how poorly everyone else in an Iowa uniform was playing on offense, I don't think we can begrudge him trying to grab hold of the game himself. It's just unfortunate that his performance came in a losing effort. 

This loss means Iowa needs to win at Wisconsin on Thursday to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season, which... gulp. They sky isn't falling on Iowa's NCAA Tournament hopes -- although this is certainly the first ugly stain on their resume -- but the finishing stretch of this the season is taking on an unpleasant sense of deja vu. Let's hope Iowa can figure out how to write a different ending to things ASAP. 

NEXT: Iowa heads to Madison to face Wisconsin on Thursday (6 PM CT, ESPN). 


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