After the last two weeks -- and, really, the last week in particular which featured frustrating losses to Ohio State and Indiana -- Iowa needed a win of any sort badly. Enter: Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights had won four in a row to re-enter the Top 25 at #25 and seemed to have regained some of their earlier mojo... which they had previously lost after a 77-75 loss to Iowa in East Rutherford that kicked off a five-game losing streak. In hindsight, Rutgers' four-game winning streak was propped up a bit by wins over a Michigan State team in their first game in several weeks, a bad Northwestern team, and a Minnesota team that's been atrocious on the road. That said, it didn't matter who Iowa faced here -- they just needed to end this wretched mini-skid and get back on the winning side of things.
Iowa managed to do just that on Wednesday, earning a 79-66 win over Rutgers thanks to a tremendous 1-2 punch from Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza. Wieskamp had a 20-10 double-double, finishing with a game-high 26 points to go with 10 rebounds, while Garza added 22 points (his first 20+ scoring effort since Iowa's win over Michigan State just over a week ago).
The game didn't start off on the best of notes for Iowa, at least in terms of scoring the ball. Iowa missed their first eight shots of the game and didn't score a point in the four four minutes of the game (a Wieskamp made 3 at 15:35 in the first half was their first points of the game). Fortunately, Rutgers wasn't any better -- they missed 11 of their first 15 shots and didn't hit double digits until almost halfway through the first half. Iowa led 16-11 at that point and used a five-minute Rutgers scoring drought to extend their lead to 24-11 with five minutes to play in the half. Rutgers finally managed to get some shots to go in near the end of the half, but Iowa still led 34-25 at the break.
The first half shooting stats were not pretty -- for either team. Rutgers finished 10/29 (34.5%) from the field, but a ghastly 1/11 (9%) from deep. Iowa was actually worse from the field overall -- 10/32 (31%), but a much better 4/9 (44% ) from long range. (Yes, Iowa was 6/23 on 2-point field goals in the first half. Let's not talk about it.) That 3-point edge, as well as an advantage at the free throw line (Iowa was 10/12 there in the first half, while Rutgers was only 4/5) and a 6-point edge in points off turnovers (Iowa got 8 points off 7 Rutgers giveaways) helped Iowa overcome their mostly bad shooting in the first half.
Iowa's strong shooting from outside carried over into the second half, as they made three triples early in the half (one each from Jordan Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery, and Keegan Murray) en route to a 45-31 lead early in the half. Unlike some other recent games, Iowa made that lead count -- they never completely put Rutgers away, but they always managed to keep them at a distance for the remainder of the game. Iowa's lead stayed around 8-12 points for most of the game thanks to timely shots from a variety of sources (but mostly Wieskamp and Garza).
The nerviest moment probably came when Ron Harper Jr. (who has lit up Iowa in the past) hit a layup to cut Iowa's lead to six (54-48) with around nine minutes to play. Given recent games, it's understandable if you thought "Here we go again..." But this time Iowa had an immediate (and effective) response: get the ball to the best player in college basketball. Garza scored with a layup and a dunk on back-to-back possessions and immediately got Iowa's lead back up to 10 points. Iowa more or less matched Rutgers bucket for bucket the rest of the game; Iowa's lead never dipped below nine.
While Garza finished with 22 points and made buckets at several key moments, this wasn't one of his sharpest performances. He shot just 8/20 from the field (1/4 from 3-point range), though he was 5/6 from the free throw line. A lot of his shots (particularly any sort of jump shot) seemed a little bit off much of the night -- but he still found ways to score, as well as other ways to be impactful (10 rebounds, plus two assists, two blocks, and a steal).
But the player of the game for Iowa was Joe Wieskamp, who was absolutely brilliant. He finished with 26 points on 9/14 shooting, including 5/7 from long range. He also had 10 rebounds (all defensive), as well as an assist and a steal. Wieskamp was especially huge in the first half, when he had almost half of Iowa's points (16 of 34) and was the only Iowa player who could shoot worth a damn (6/9; non-Wieskamp Iowa players were 4/23 from the floor in the first half). Garza was Iowa's leading scorer in the second half (14 points on 6/10 shooting), but Wieskamp was right behind him with 10 points. 8 of Wieskamp's 10 points came in a 90-second stretch with around seven minutes to play that effectively iced the game; Weiskamp sandwiched two threes around two made free throws and took Iowa's lead from 58-50 to 66-54. Game over. It was encouraging to see Wieskamp make an impact in the second half; while he's played well over the last few weeks (this was his seventh game in the last eight with at least 16 points), those performances have often been a bit lopsided, with most of the scoring in the first half. Iowa needed him badly in the first half of this game (and he delivered), and while other Hawkeyes found their shooting strokes in the second half, it was still very encouraging to see Wieskamp continue to stay aggressive and involved on offense in the second half.
Two other Hawkeyes joined Garza and Wieskamp in double figures; Bohannon had 12 points on 3/6 shooting (3/5 from deep), while Keegan Murray had 10 points on 3/6 shooting. Murray returned to his regular sixth man role in this game thanks to the return of CJ Fredrick, who started and played 17 minutes. He didn't score (0/3), but he did have three rebounds and two assists. He was also an active defender on the perimeter and his mere presence provides more balance for Iowa's lineups and makes them harder to defend. Welcome back, CJ!
Murray thrived in his sixth man role once again, grabbing six rebounds, a block, a steal, and an assist to go with his 10 points. He also provided plenty of energy and hustle in his time on the floor, as we've come to expect. Bohannon added a game-high seven assists to go with his 12 points. Iowa also got productive efforts off the bench from Jack Nunge (4 points, 5 rebounds, a block, and a steal) and Patrick McCaffery (5 points, 3 assists, 2 steals, a block, and a rebound).
A game that started in the ugliest of fashions (eight straight missed shots, over four minutes without a point) ended with Iowa cruising to a stress-free 13-point win. As get-right games go, that'll do. Iowa didn't need style points after the last few outings, they just needed a win -- but they got that and some strong performances from several players. Hopefully the good vibes from this game can carry over, because Iowa's next two games are on the road in two of the locales that have been least hospitable to Iowa wins over the last few decades (East Lansing and Madison). For now, we'll just enjoy this win.