NO. 10 IOWA 77, NO. 14 RUTGERS 75: REMEMBER TO BREATHE

By Adam Jacobi on January 2, 2021 at 5:00 pm
Luka Garza, psyched up and yelling
© Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
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In what might end up being the best win of the season, Iowa took down Rutgers at the RAC, 77-75 on Saturday. Luka Garza led all scorers with 25 points in the win — most of which came in the latter stages of the game — and Keegan Murray added 14 points and 9 rebounds in the best game of his young career. 

This was a classic Big Ten battle among two of the best teams the conference has to offer. It was played within a 13-point window the entire way; Iowa's largest lead was 6 points, Rutgers' was 7, and both of those leads were erased by the other team in under two minutes of gametime. Moreover, the last 8:34 of the game were inside a six-point window, with neither team leading by more than three points. 

Let me say that again: the last eight minutes were a one-possession game. 

Adding to the pressure, Connor McCaffery turned his ankle three minutes into the game and only returned to inbound the ball with 4 seconds left; Joe Toussaint also took a finger to the eye and was limited to seven minutes of court time. That meant true freshman Ahron Ulis had to step up, and he made the most of his moment with four assists and three rebounds in 14 minutes of action. 

The second half was filled with opportunities for Iowa to lose control of the game, and the Hawkeyes refused to do it. Rutgers had denied Garza for the first 11 minutes of the second half, through both aggressive defense and the absence of McCaffery and his entry passes, but Garza hit a baseline jumper with 8:34 left to cut the deficit to two (I will say this again: a one-possession game for THE REST OF THE GAME) and then went to work. For the stretch of 6:30 to 2:15, Garza scored 13 straight points for the Hawkeyes, and he finished with a perfect 5-5 line from both the field and free throw stripe in the second half.

Although really, "made all his shots" doesn't do justice to Garza's performance, especially when he busted out a damn Dream Shake on a dribble drive:

Also enormous in the win was Keegan Murray. As mentioned earlier, he chipped in 14 points and 9 rebounds, but more importantly, he was everywhere on defense (3 blocks, 3 steals) and played with poise and confidence down the stretch. With 16 seconds left and Iowa trailing by 1, he collected an offensive rebound off a Wieskamp missed three and was fouled, then stepped to the line and hit two free throws that ended up being the game-winner. Murray was subbed in for a struggling Jack Nunge with 18:30 in the second half, and he never came back out. Murray was nails, nails, nails, and Iowa couldn't have won this game without his second half performance.

Jordan Bohannon had a sneaky great game as well, going 5-for-7 from the field and 3-for-5 from deep, while adding four assists and filling McCaffery's role as a facilitator for the offense. Yeah, you don't like to see the four turnovers, but both teams were working their hindquarters off on both ends of the court and these things happen.

Ron Harper Jr., long a nemesis of the Hawkeyes, was clearly still hampered by his ankle injury from last week and mustered just 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting, including a disastrous 0-for-3 at the line. In fact, the stat of the day is probably Rutgers going 4-for-12 from the line for the game, while Iowa was 18-for-23, including 14-for-15 in the second half.

The one miss? Joe Wieskamp's second free throw with three seconds left, setting up Rutgers' last-second heave that fell short. 

Whew.

Make no mistake: Rutgers is really, really good. The Scarlet Knights have serious "take down a 1-seed in March Madness" energy to them. You could even make the case that Iowa was lucky to get this win. But most close wins involve some level of luck, and more importantly they involve hard work by the truckload and that's what Iowa brought to this game. Iowa traded blows with a top-15 foe that was determined to win the game, on a road court where the host was 24-1 in its last 25 games, and Iowa made it 24-2. 

This was a GREAT win, without a doubt, and you know what that means. It's dancing time, baby.

GO IOWA AWESOME.

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