Iowa coach Fran McCaffery explains why he played freshman CJ Fredrick all 20 minutes in the second half vs. Michigan. Listen: Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa has a center playing like an all-American.
It has a freshman point guard capable of providing a jolt of energy just when it's needed most.
They have three wing players each capable of providing crucial points when needed most.
And the Hawkeyes have a serious homecourt advantage at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where crowds are shrugging off winter storms in order to cheer them on.
Add it up, and it becomes an 85-80 victory over a physical Rutgers team that pushed Iowa to the brink Wednesday, but not over it.
Junior star Luka Garza turned in another amazing offensive performance with 28 points and 13 rebounds to lead a Hawkeye attack that was undaunted when facing the Big Ten Conference's best defense. For most of the game.
Rookie Joe Toussaint, coming off three games in which he totaled just six points and eight turnovers, turned up the intensity from baseline to baseline, adding 14 points and a team-high four assists, including one while sprawled on the floor at halfcourt.
And a raucous crowd loved every minute of it — except for the officiating — to help Iowa win its fourth consecutive game.
Toussaint's layup gave Iowa a 69-59 lead with 10:25 remaining. And then the Hawkeyes went into a deep freeze, not scoring a field goal for the next 8 minutes. Rutgers took advantage to grab a 77-76 lead.
That's when freshman guard CJ Fredrick drove for a layup. Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp followed with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Sophomore guard Connor McCaffery made all four of his free throws down the stretch to ice the victory.
This was the first meeting between Iowa and Rutgers when both teams were ranked, and the game was intense from the outset.
Both teams were on target from the 3-point arc. Both made tough shots in the paint.
The No. 19 Hawkeyes (14-5, 5-3 Big Ten Conference) took a six-point lead 8 minutes into the game, but then started to commit costly turnovers. There were eight in all in the first half and the No. 25 Scarlet Knights (14-5, 5-3) turned them into 17 points to build a 35-28 lead.
Toussaint then scored five consecutive points, including a 3-pointer from right in front of the Rutgers bench. Toussaint turned to wave to the Scarlet Knights after that. He is 5-for-23 from the 3-point arc this season. But Toussaint has shown that he has a short memory. He was in attack mode throughout the night.
The half ended in controversy as the Hawkeyes, with three fouls to give, tried to commit one on Rutgers’ final possession. Ryan Kriener put both hands on a Rutgers player but the officials called few fouls in the opening half, and opted not to on this occasion again.
Instead, Ron Harper Jr. got an uncontested layup with 2 seconds left and Rutgers had a 43-38 lead at intermission. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was so livid that he went to each official in turn demanding an explanation. Finally, just as he was walking off the court, he was called for a technical foul.
It was the most first-half points scored by Rutgers in any Big Ten game this season. And the point total increased before any time expired in second half when Scarlet Knights guard Caleb McConnell made one of the two technical foul shots.
The officials called the game much tighter in the second half. Iowa made 17 of 21 free throws to help put the game away.
Rutgers also went cold from the 3-point arc, missing nine of its 10 second-half attempts.
Iowa next hosts Wisconsin on Monday.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
No one covers the Hawkeyes like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.