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No. 11 Iowa 77, No. 13 Rutgers 75: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The Iowa men's basketball team took another game down to the wire at the RAC. And pulled out a win again.

The Hawkeyes, two years after Joe Wieskamp buried a miracle 3-pointer to win here, outlasted the Scarlet Knights 77-75 on Saturday.

Luka Garza, who struggled to find room to shoot for most of the game, broke loose late, driving to the basket and picking up fouls in the process, to lead the No. 11 Hawkeyes (9-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) with 25 points.

Freshman forward Keegan Murray added 14 points and nine rebounds in the most important performance of what has been a breakout rookie campaign. His pair of free throws proved to be the winners.

The game was scrappy and tense, as expected. CJ Fredrick gave Iowa a 72-71 lead with a baseline drive and floater, but Myles Johnson answered for Rutgers with a putback and a 73-72 advantage with 1 minute, 11 seconds to go.

Then, after a possession that seemed to be going nowhere, Iowa called timeout and Jordan Bohannon drove for a fadeaway swish.

Geo Baker quickly responded with a layup.

Rutgers then fouled Iowa freshman Keegan Murray, who made both free throws with 16.4 seconds left. The Hawkeyes led 76-75. And then Iowa forced Johnson to stop on the baseline while gathering the basketball to get the ball back with 4.4 on the clock.

Jan 2, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes center Luka Garza (55) looks to pass against Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Ron Harper Jr.
(24) during the first half at Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC). Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Wieskamp was fouled and made one free throw to give No. 13 Rutgers (7-2, 3-2) a final shot with 3 seconds left and the length of the court to go.

The final halfcourt heave was short and the Hawkeyes stormed the court to celebrate their first win away from home this season.

Here's what we learned:

Rutgers gets style of play to its liking

The Scarlet Knights are a physical team that likes to pound opponents into submission. That's not often a great matchup for Iowa, and it showed at times Saturday. Rutgers clamped down on Luka Garza, forced turnovers and kept rotating bodies in and out of the lineup. The result was a muddy game, and the kind the Hawkeyes need to learn to win. Iowa went long stretches without scoring.

Garza had trouble getting open looks all game. The Scarlet Knights attacked the offensive glass to gain an advantage. But the Hawkeyes kept finding ways to adjust and make runs of their own. There were moments when Rutgers looked like it was going to pull away, only for Iowa to respond. It wasn't pretty to watch, but it was the kind of slugfest that has long typified Big Ten play.

Nunge can be a defensive force

Iowa starting power forward Connor McCaffery exited early with an apparent ankle injury. Freshman Keegan Murray picked up two first-half fouls. It was Jack Nunge to the rescue. The 6-foot-11 sophomore post player was superb on defense when the Hawkeyes needed some help for Luka Garza in the low post.

Nunge played 14 first-half minutes, coming up with five points, seven rebounds (six defensive), three blocked shots and a steal. He was a big reason Iowa owned a 14-12 advantage in points in the paint in the opening half, stifling Scarlet Knight scoring opportunities and helping the Hawkeyes get out in transition. Nunge has added muscle in his four seasons at Iowa to be able to contend with larger bodies inside, and it showed up in a big way Saturday. Nunge was less effective in the second half, but Murray again showed what a promising young player he is to fill that void.

Freshmen thrown into fray

Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins have been spectators during Big Ten play for Iowa. But that changed in the first half. McCaffery’s injury, two fouls on CJ Fredrick and Murray, plus Joe Toussaint still dealing with an ankle sprain all led Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery to summon his rookies onto the court for a key stretch of the first half.

Ulis ran the point for 9 vital minutes, contributing two points, two assists and no turnovers. Perkins joined him on the wing for 5 minutes, with one point and a turnover. He also lost Rutgers star Ron Harper Jr. on a couple of 3-point attempts. But he was active, and Iowa outscored the Scarlet Knights by four points when he was on the floor. Both freshmen looked a little hesitant at first, but Nunge was among the veterans who helped them get positioned properly on the court and you could see both gaining in confidence as their first important action as Hawkeyes progressed.

The future came a little earlier than expected for Ulis and Perkins, but this was valuable learning time for both. More importantly, Iowa didn’t suffer as a result of their youth.

Iowa next plays at Maryland at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.