Hawkeyes Have An Answer Again To Fight Off Rutgers
This one was going to be bruising, but then again, they all seem to be.
Luka Garza just shrugged at the thought.
“It’s what we signed up for,” the Iowa junior center said. “If you play in the Big Ten, these are the type of battles you’re going to get.”
Which is why he seemed to enjoy every moment of the 85-80 win over Rutgers.
The No. 19 Hawkeyes were going to get the No. 24/25 Scarlet Knights on Wednesday night, a team ranked nationally for the first time since 1979, and of course there was no way the Scarlet Knights were going to let that one get away without a 40-minute in-your-face scuffle.
Fine, the Hawkeyes said.
“This was a night,” sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp said, “that you couldn’t back down.”
The victory by the Hawkeyes, their fourth consecutive overall and eighth consecutive at home, was another test in a Big Ten season that was headed toward a 20-game free-for-all a long time ago.
“When they first talked about going to 20 games, I wondered that,” said Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell. “It’s a lot. It’s a lot.”
The Scarlet Knights came in giving up an average of 58.7 points, and their last nine opponents had scored 65 or fewer points. Iowa (14-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) dented them for the most they have given up all season.
“It’s understanding that you have to be able to play through that physicality without losing your composure,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “I thought that's what we did in order to get 85 points against this team, very good defensive team, as impressive a team defensively as I've seen on film.”
This was another game in which the Hawkeyes were challenged late. They had a nine-point lead on three separate occasions midway through the second half, then Rutgers (14-5, 5-3) started to squeeze them.
The Scarlet Knights scored seven points in a 22-second stretch to take a 77-76 lead, taking advantage of back-to-back Iowa turnovers.
But CJ Fredrick gave Iowa the lead back on a layup with 2:16 to go. Wieskamp’s 3-pointer 37 seconds later put the Hawkeyes ahead 81-77.
“We certainly had the opportunity to hang our heads,” McCaffery said. “We did not do that. We kept fighting. We executed on offense to perfection, and then we got key stops.”
The final points of the night came from McCaffery’s son, Connor, who hit four free throws in the closing 16 seconds, his only points of the game.
“This team kind of deals with whatever comes their way,” Fran McCaffery said. “No excuses.”
“No one was quitting on each other,” Garza said.
Garza, of course, had no quit. He finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, his 11th double-double of the season. Every basket was a statement, sometimes with a smile and a flex of the muscles.
Pikiell looked at the box score and marveled.
“I thought we did a good job on Garza,” Pikiell said. “Then I look at the stats — 28 and 13 — so that tells you what kind of tier he’s on.”
“I don’t know if he’s elevating his game,” McCaffery said. “He’s just dominant every night. You look at him, and you’re like, ‘Well, I’m not surprised, 28 and 13.”
Wieskamp had 18 points. Joe Toussaint had 14 points and seven rebounds. Ryan Kriener had 11.
Iowa held a 38-30 rebounding edge against a team that was almost plus-9 for the season.
“Obviously an emphasis, and really proud of our guys for how they responded in that area,” McCaffery said.
Iowa is the middle of a three-game homestand. The Hawkeyes are now in the middle of a four-team jam for third place in the Big Ten, one that also includes Rutgers.
Garza smiled and flexed all night.
“He’s always been like that,” McCaffery said.
He was a little more business-like after the game, but he did crack a smile when someone asked him if all of this was “fun.”
“Oh yeah,” Garza said.