Depth and grit push No. 10 Hawkeyes to road win over 14th-ranked Scarlet Knights

Iowa defeated Rutgers, 77-75, for the program’s first road win over a ranked team since March of 2017.


Casey Stone

Iowa Forward Keegan Murray dunks the ball for a 2-point basket during the Iowa vs. Rutgers Men’s Basketball game on Jan. 2, 2021. The Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 77-75.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Luka Garza had never defeated a ranked team on the road in his time in the Black in Gold prior to Iowa’s matchup with Rutgers on Saturday, and he told his teammates as much before the game.

Message received.

In a thriller, the No. 10 Hawkeyes outlasted the No. 14 Scarlet Knights for a 77-75 victory in New Jersey. It is the program’s first road win over a ranked team since March of 2017, and it comes against a Rutgers team that had won 24 of its previous 25 games on its home court.

“We beat a really, really good basketball team,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We turned it over 15 times, we gave up 16 offensive rebounds. Normally you lose those games, you just do. We kept coming.”

The game featured 18 lead changes and 19 ties. The Hawkeyes needed their experienced players and their youthful ones down the stretch.

The game was tied 35-35 at halftime. At the 12:32 mark of the second half, Rutgers guard Geo Baker hit a 3-pointer to push the Scarlet Knight lead to seven points.

Garza scored 10 points in the first half, but couldn’t make a basket for the first 11-plus minutes of the second half.

“They were playing so aggressive defensively, our guards weren’t able to get the ball to me,” Garza said. “It was a credit to them and their game plan, it was tough to catch it. All I had to do was get the ball in my hand and I knew I could score, but that was easier said than done the whole game.”

Iowa Center Luka Garza goes in for a layup, but a Rutgers player is fouled, sending Garza to the free throw line during the Iowa vs. Rutgers Men’s Basketball game on Jan. 2, 2021. The Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 77-75. (Casey Stone)

The senior hit a jumper at the 8:31 mark and finished the game with 25 points on only 11 shots to move into second in program history in scoring, passing Aaron White. Fellow senior Jordan Bohannon drained a 3-pointer in transition less than a minute later to move Iowa into the lead.

Joe Wieskamp hit a pair of free throws on Iowa’s next trip down the floor to push the team’s run to 10-0 and go up 57-54.

“In those big moments, you’ve got to stay connected, you’ve got to stay together,” Garza said. “Down the stretch on the road, that team is going to make a run at some point. You have to take those runs and make a run of your own.”

Rutgers responded right back with a 3-pointer on the other end. The team’s continued to trade baskets throughout the rest of the game.

With 16.4 seconds to go in the game and Iowa trailing by one, Wieskamp was off target on a 3-pointer, but Keegan Murray secured an offensive rebound for the Hawkeyes and drew a foul.

Murray is only a freshman, but he showed the poise of a veteran player with his performance. The Cedar Rapids native didn’t flinch at the line and knocked down both free throws to give Iowa the late lead.

“I saw the first two [free throws] go in in the first half and the basket looked big to me,” Murray said. “I had the confidence that I could make them. I didn’t really feel any pressure. I trust my shot and it went. I knew it was going to go in.”

Iowa made a defensive stop at the other end, and Rutgers center Myles Johnson knocked the ball out of bounds for a turnover. Starter Connor McCaffery entered the lineup for the first time since injuring his ankle three minutes into the game and fired an inbounds pass to Wieskamp, who made one of his two free throw attempts.

Down two points, Rutgers had three seconds to tie the game or take the lead. The Scarlet Knights did neither. The Hawkeyes forced another stop. Jacob Young’s late heave from just beyond half court didn’t touch the basket and Iowa escaped the Rutgers Athletic Center with a victory.

“There’s a long tunnel going back to the locker room, about 100 yards it feels like,” Murray said, “Everyone just sprinted right down to the locker room. We were all jumping.”

Connor McCaffery’s injury meant his father had to get creative with the Iowa lineup. Murray’s role expanded, and he played the final 18 minutes of the game on his way to tallying 14 points, nine rebounds, three steals, and three blocks.

Freshmen Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins also saw minutes they normally wouldn’t, and contributed to the team’s scoring runs in the second half. Connor McCaffery should be available for Iowa’s next game, a Jan. 7 contest at Maryland, but seeing his young players step up in a conference game was encouraging to Fran McCaffery.

“It was our depth and grit that enabled us to win,” he said. “When you can play 11 guys in a two-point game, that says a lot about your team.”

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