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Iowa forward Tyler Cook doesn't think his team is lacking confidence, or that off-court distractions are taking a toll. Hear him explain why: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men's basketball team saved its worst for last.

As in: Final home game of the season, and most lifeless performance.

Rutgers came into a soldout Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday and pounded the No. 21 Hawkeyes 86-72. This was not the way to send out Iowa's lone senior, Nicholas Baer, whose career was marked by impassioned play. The Hawkeyes, losing a second consecutive game by 34 points total, put up little fight.

"We came out a little flat, but it's nothing new that anyone's ever facing this entire year. It's going to happen," Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon said after his team led for a mere 2 minutes, 51 seconds. "We just didn't really get anything going in the first half."

Iowa finished 14-4 at Carver-Hawkeye this season, but has been struggling down the stretch. It took miracle finishes to down Northwestern and Indiana here in recent weeks.

Nicholas Baer, a forward from Bettendorf, got a loud ovation before the game and finished with 17 points. He fouled out for the first time this season with a minute left, getting one final standing ovation. He was replaced in the lineup by his younger brother, Michael. That was a nice touch in a game that otherwise lacked any reason for fans to get excited.

MoreAppreciating the remarkable and historic career of Iowa senior Nicholas Baer

In one stretch of the second half, the Hawkeyes went 10 minutes and 12 seconds between made baskets. They shot just 35.7 percent from the field overall.

This loss will leave a stain on its NCAA Tournament resume. It is considered a Quadrant 3 loss in the new NET rankings system — the first one of those the Hawkeyes have suffered this season.

Iowa was led by assistant coach Andrew Francis as head coach Fran McCaffery served the first of his two-game suspension for verbally attacking a referee after Tuesday’s loss at Ohio State.

Iowa forward Tyler Cook said the absence of McCaffery was no excuse.

"Of course we want Coach out there with us. He's the main voice that we hear every day," said Cook, who scored 16 points Saturday. "At the end of the day, we're grown men. We've got to go out there and execute no matter who's at the helm."

It was not an auspicious beginning. The Hawkeyes (21-8, 10-8 Big Ten Conference) turned the ball over repeatedly early, struggled to make 3-pointers and let a pair of unlikely Rutgers players torch them from distance, trailing 39-30 at halftime.

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Iowa was 3-for-10 from the 3-point arc in the opening 20 minutes and 8-for-29 for the game. Rutgers got three first-half 3-pointers apiece from Ron Harper Jr. and Issa Thiam, who made all of his from the same spot in the left corner.

Harper entered play as a 26.2 percent 3-point shooter. But he made a season-high four the last time the teams met, Feb. 16 at Rutgers. He also had a career-high 16 points in that 71-69 Iowa win. He matched that in the first half Saturday and finished with 27 points.

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Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell explains why it's so difficult to defend Iowa and the significance of the road win for his program. Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

 

As for Thiam, he entered Saturday having scored two points total in the last six games for Rutgers (14-14, 7-11). He turned to the Iowa bench and lowered three fingers after each of his first-half makes. He added one more in the second half.

Rutgers went 11-for-23 from 3-point range. The Scarlet Knights also doubled up the Hawkeyes in points in the paint, 36-18. It was Rutgers' most one-sided win in Big Ten play this season. It was the first time in 38 tries that the Scarlet Knights had defeated a ranked team on the road.

"We played a team today that did a good job of making some shots, I don't want to say uncharacteristically," Francis said of Rutgers, a 31.4-percent 3-point shooting team entering play. "They've got good players. Those guys made some shots."

Francis served as head coach Saturday because he was in charge of the scouting report for Rutgers. Iowa next plays at Wisconsin on Thursday, and assistant coach Kirk Speraw will lead the Hawkeyes in that one.

Francis spoke of the need for the Hawkeyes to not lose confidence after a 90-70 loss at Ohio State on Tuesday, and a dispiriting result Saturday. The defense has looked particularly ragged.

"These guys have worked hard to be in this position. There's still a lot of season left," Francis said.

"We're trying to stay ahead and have these guys understand that we are good shooters. We're a good shooting team, so we're going to keep taking the shots that we know we're capable of making."

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