'You win some, you lose some': Iowa basketball takes questionable officiating calls in stride

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Shortly after Iowa's (13-5, 3-4) 48-46 road loss to Rutgers (11-6, 5-2) on Wednesday night, conversations both inside the Rutgers Athletic Center, on TV and social media afterward were less centered on coaches and players.

The talk was about two officiating calls that came at key times. The most notable came with just 1.9 seconds remaining in the game. 

With the score tied at 46 with the clock nearly expired, Iowa forward Keegan Murray was called for a reach-in foul on Rutgers forward Ron Harper Jr. that sent Harper to the free throw line. Two made shots later, Rutgers had the lead and a failed last-second three point attempt by Iowa gave them the win. 

Murray, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and the rest of Iowa's team visibly showed their frustration with the call on the court, and Hawkeye fans followed suit on social media. When asked after the game if they received an explanation for the touch foul in a physical game, both McCaffery and Murray said they did not. 

"I wish I did," McCaffery said. "I saw really good defense. It was a really physical and hard fought game and it should not come down to that. It just shouldn't, we should be playing overtime." 

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Murray offered his own recollection of the play as well. 

"I feel like I was just sliding my feet," Murray said. "I thought I was in good defensive position. Obviously I can't really say too much about it, I haven't seen the film yet. But obviously he blew the whistle, I thought I was in good position but I can't do too much about the refs. I'm just a player." 

At the end of the first half, another officiating decision took two Iowa points off the board in a Big Ten game where points were hard to come by. In that sequence, Iowa guard Joe Toussaint stole a Rutgers pass and raced down the floor for what first appeared to be a buzzer-beating layup that gave the Hawkeyes a 29-24 halftime lead. However, after review, the basket was waved off.

Whether the correct call or not, both were bad breaks for Iowa.  

"You win some, you lose some," Toussaint said. "Sometimes referees miss calls, sometimes they get it right. A call is a call and you have to play through it." 

Within the game itself, Rutgers' tough, physical style took Iowa's up-tempo offense out of their element. The first half saw 16 fouls combined which made finding a rhythm to the game difficult. In between whistles, Iowa went through several scoring droughts of three minutes or longer, including a near-seven-minute scoring drought in the second half. 

"They mug you. They beat you to the spot," Toussaint said. "They're a smart, crafty team. We just have to get better at that in practice, got to get more physical and can't let (teams) bump us off our cuts, plays and sets." 

Iowa's 46 points on Wednesday is nearly half of their season average of 86 points per game, and a team that normally shoots above 47% from the field and 34% from 3-point range shot under 30% in both categories in their loss. 

The biggest second half difference came in rebounding margin. At halftime, each team had 23 total rebounds on the stat sheet. But Rutgers outrebounded Iowa by 11 rebounds in the second half that included limiting the Hawkeyes to just one offensive rebound. 

"They were physical. They were active," McCaffery said. "I don't think we moved enough. I thought we played really good defense (as well) but they really got us on the glass in the second half. We didn't rebound as well as we should've, but we were right there. You want on the road against a really good team to have a chance at the end." 

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Iowa guard Joe Toussaint (2) dribbles against Rutgers center Clifford Omoruyi (11) on Wednesday during the first half at Jersey Mike's Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Iowa's two-game road trip ends in bitter fashion, but they see positives overall. On Sunday they notched their first Big Ten road win against Minnesota while holding off a vicious second half comeback and on Wednesday had a chance to win against a near sellout Jersey Mike's Arena crowd. And they're heading home with plenty of areas of improvement. 

"This stretch was big for us," Murray said. "We played two pretty good teams; playing on the road in the Big Ten is always tough. We won one, lost one but all we can do is go on to the next. That's Penn State. We'll have a good crowd there. Hoping for a win and put on a good show." 

At 3-4 in Big Ten play, Iowa sits tied for eighth place in the standings with Penn State, the Hawkeyes' opponent on Saturday in what will be their first sellout crowd of the season. 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com.

Rutgers' Ron Harper Jr. (24) drives to the basket as Iowa's Keegan Murray (15) defends during the second half of Wednesday's game in Piscataway, New Jersey.