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No. 16 Iowa 79, Rutgers 66: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men's basketball team wasn't going to let another second-half lead slip away at home.

Not if Joe Wieskamp could help it.

The junior wing player put together two strong halves in his best game of the season, answering late when Rutgers made a run to finish with 26 points and 10 rebounds, helping the No. 16 Hawkeyes earn a 79-66 victory Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It gave Iowa a series sweep of the Scarlet Knights, but more importantly ended a two-game losing streak.

Wieskamp made 5 of 7 3-pointers to bail out the Hawkeyes (14-6, 8-5 Big Ten Conference) on a night when points were difficult to come by. 

"I wanted to come out here and play a complete game," Wieskamp said. "I just kept staying with it. Guys were up in my space. They were fouling me all game and I felt like I did a good job of playing through that."

Luka Garza had a bruising night in the post, but added 22 points and 10 rebounds of his own.

Iowa's defense, meanwhile, frustrated Rutgers (11-7, 7-7) into 6-for-28 shooting from the 3-point arc. The Scarlet Knights had won four games in a row and were looking to avenge a 77-75 home loss to Iowa. Instead, they trailed for the final 34 minutes of the game, thanks to timely shots from Wieskamp and a Hawkeye bench that executed when called upon.

Iowa had lost four of its past five games despite leading in the second half in all of them. That's why there so many smiles as the Hawkeyes walked off the court, their mission finally accomplished.

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) and Iowa's Joe Wieskamp (10) defend Rutgers' Ron Harper Jr. as he attempts a basket in the first half during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Here's what we learned:

Iowa freshmen get the second-half call

Sophomore CJ Fredrick was back in the starting lineup at shooting guard for the first time in three games. But he wasn't yet ready to log heavy minutes with the lower-leg injury that has been bothering him for three weeks. Plus, he got into a little foul trouble. Connor McCaffery started at power forward, but appeared to suffer a mild leg injury of his own, ultimately limping off the court early in the second half and not returning.

That all meant Iowa coach Fran McCaffery had to get creative to fill those minutes, which he did by summoning four freshmen into the lineup for a few minutes at a time. Keegan Murray was the biggest contributor, with 10 points and six rebounds. But Patrick McCaffery buried a big 3-pointer just ahead of the shot clock. Tony Perkins secured a tough offensive rebound and fed Garza for a 3-pointer that pushed Iowa's lead to 13. Ahron Ulis also got some time at point guard to give Jordan Bohannon a needed rest.

Iowa's bench was coming off its worst collective performance of the season in Sunday's loss at Indiana, with no field goals and only five points. But they made enough winning plays in this one to supplement the veterans, and that is exactly what the expectation should be — not necessarily brilliance, but competence.

Joe Wieskamp takes early command again

 The opening minutes were ugly for both offenses, but things got better for Iowa when Wieskamp started shooting. His 3-pointer gave the Hawkeyes their first points 4 minutes and 25 seconds into the game. Fortunately for Iowa, that basket tied the score.

Rutgers kept flailing away, and Wieskamp kept shooting. He ended up with 16 first-half points as the Hawkeyes took a 34-25 lead at intermission. This effort followed a 15-point first-half performance in Sunday’s loss at Indiana. The junior wing player was also vocal and active on defense, contributing seven of Iowa’s 23 rebounds.

Wieskamp made all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half; Rutgers converted only 1 of 11. He was the difference, proving again that the Hawkeyes have two players who are worthy of consideration for first-team all-conference.

Hawkeyes get to free-throw line — and convert

Iowa has had games in which it inexplicably struggled from the free-throw line. But not against Rutgers. While the Hawkeyes made just 10 of 32 field goals in the first half, they did make an effort to get to the free-throw line. That’s what a veteran team should do to ensure that the points come from somewhere.

In a Jan. 2 win at Rutgers, Iowa made 18 of 23 free throws, and Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell mentioned the need to keep that number down in the rematch. Instead, the Hawkeyes made 10 of 12 free throws in the opening 20 minutes, including 4 of 4 from Garza, who compensated for 2 of 10 shooting from the field. Iowa was 19 of 22 from the free-throw line at Indiana, so perhaps it has turned the corner in that regard.

Iowa next plays at Michigan State at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

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.