An NCAA Tournament bid feels inevitable for Rutgers. Beating teams that are firmly in the dance is another story, at least recently.
The Scarlet Knights’ four-game winning streak against the middle of the Big Ten didn’t change that. They fell back to earth against a top opponent Wednesday night, losing 79-66 to No. 15 Iowa in a one-sided affair.
With the loss, Rutgers (11-7, 7-7 Big Ten) fell to 2-5 against the top six teams in the conference. Fortunately, the Scarlet Knights have to face one of those clubs just once more, when they go to No. 3 Michigan next Thursday.
Early foul woes and shaky shooting dug a deep early hole from which the Scarlet Knights couldn’t climb out.
Iowa’s National Player of the Year front-runner Luka Garza was inefficient, needing 20 shots to get his 21 points, but teammate Joe Wieskamp exploded for 26 points, and the Hawkeyes (14-6, 8-5) outscored Rutgers, 33-18, from 3-point range.
Geo Baker scored 11 points for Rutgers and Jacob Young added 10 off the bench in the New Jersey school’s first loss since coach Steve Pikiell shook up his starting lineup.
The best that could be said for Rutgers at halftime was it had escaped the first half without getting blown out. The Scarlet Knights missed 20 of their first 25 shots, went 1-for-11 from 3-point range and committed seven turnovers. They also dealt with colossal foul trouble to their top two big men, Myles Johnson and Cliff Omoruyi, and were down 13 at one point.
Johnson picked up two fouls just 1:09 after the opening tipoff. Omoruyi replaced him and quickly had two fouls himself. When Pikiell reinserted Johnson later in the half with Rutgers down double figures. The gamble backfired when Johnson was whistled for his third.
Despite Johnson playing just four first-half minutes, Garza was unable to take advantage, shooting just 2-of-10 from the field. Wieskamp carried Iowa offensively, scoring 16 points and hitting all three of his 3-point attempts.
Rutgers didn’t start the first half any better than it did the first. It quickly saw the lead return to double figures, enabling Iowa to regain command really never relinquish it. Rutgers got as close as six midway through the second half, but Iowa answered with consecutive Garza baskets and was never really in danger again.