By Pat Harty
For the second game in a row, they didn’t quit after falling way behind and Jordan Bohannon made a bunch of 3-point baskets.
But that’s about the only positives to take from the Iowa men’s basketball team’s 80-64 loss against Rutgers on Wednesday in Piscataway, N.J.
The Hawkeyes fell behind early, trailed by 14 points at halftime and failed to mount a serious comeback in the second half like they did against Illinois last Thursday.
Iowa fell to 1-6 in the Big Ten and 10-10 overall and now has just two days to recover and prepare for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Big Ten leader Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The hope coming into Wednesday’s game was that Iowa would build off its come-from-behind victory in overtime at Illinois last Thursday, but it just wasn’t meant to be for lots of reasons, including too many turnovers, too little defense and not enough from Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss on offense.
Bohannon made five 3-point baskets and led Iowa with 23 points, while junior forward Nicholas Baer scored 11 points. They combined to score more than half of Iowa’s points on a night in which Cook was held to 10 points and Moss had just two.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery rarely questions or comments on his players’ shot selection, and is known for having a green light for his shooters. But McCaffery reacted differently after Wednesday’s loss.
“Their bigs were real physical and they were keeping us from getting too many easy baskets inside, but it doesn’t mean that you stop trying to do that and just start jacking jumpers,” McCaffery said. “You want to shoot open jumpers, open threes in particular.”
McCaffery didn’t single out any players, and there is no reason to single out any players because this was a team loss.
Iowa’s performance in the first half against Rutgers was like a repeat of the first half against Illinois last Thursday in Champaign, Ill. The Hawkeyes struggled with turnovers and were shredded on defense in the first half of both games.
Iowa committed nine turnovers in the first half against Rutgers and only shot 36.4 from the field, making just 10-of-28 field-goal attempts.
Rutgers, on the other hand, made 6-of-10 3-point shots in the first half and shot 50 percent from the field as a team.
Iowa trailed 38-24 at halftime against Rutgers, which is one more point than the 13-point halftime deficit it faced at Illinois. It was Rutgers’ largest halftime lead in Big Ten play this season.
With exception to Bohannon’s four 3-point baskets in the first half, the Iowa offense was mostly ineffective and lacked movement.
Bohannon made three consecutive 3-point baskets early in the first half to erase an 11-4 deficit. But the offense fell apart after Bohannon went to the bench in the first half for a rest.
You kept waiting on the heels of the Illinois game for Iowa to make a charge in the second half, and there were signs of it when Baer made back-to-back 3-point baskets in the closing minutes.
But unlike the Fighting Illini, who blew a 20-point lead against the Hawkeyes, Rutgers didn’t fold.
The Scarlet Knights showed why they lead the Big Ten in scoring defense and they made 15-of-20 free throws to secure their first victory ever against Iowa.
Rutgers also shot a blistering 53.7 percent from the field, which is considerably better than its 40.0 shooting percentage entering the game.
That probably says more about Iowa’s effort and execution on defense than anything else.
Iowa had a chance to win back-to-back conference road games, which isn’t easy, and gain some much-needed momentum heading into the Purdue game, and yet the players came out flat and performed poorly.
Take away the 3-point shot and Iowa’s offense was virtually non-existent.
The Hawkeyes committed 17 turnovers and Rutgers had a 24-7 advantage in points off turnovers.
Iowa’s inability to value and protect the basketball has been a problem all season. That is due partly to not having a true point guard, but also to being careless and stagnant on offense.
Rutgers is improving under second-year coach Steve Pikiell, but is far from being a conference contender at this stage with a 2-5 record in Big ten play. There is no way to spin a 16-point loss at Rutgers, especially considering Rutgers was missing one of its top players in injured senior guard Mike Williams.
Iowa is a mess right now, with the offense and defense both equally to blame.
McCaffery was asked after Wednesday game if he thought that maybe Iowa had turned the corner with the comeback win at Illinois.
He gave the perfect answer.
“Just because we came back from down twenty, that doesn’t mean you’ve turned the corner,” McCaffery said. “I mean we were down twenty. I think if you beat a team and you lead from start to finish, okay, maybe you’ve turned the corner. I thought we took a step. I thought it was important that we fought through a twenty point deficit and beat a team in overtime who made a huge shot at the end of regulation.
“So I was proud of my guys for that. But I don’t think you can look at one game as if we’ve turned the corner. You’ve got to put some games back to back before you can say you’ve turned the corner.”
Iowa now moves on to what promises to be an emotional-charged game against Purdue.
Friday will mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Chris Street in an automobile accident. Street was an emerging star on the Iowa basketball team when he was killed on Jan. 19, 1993.
The car in which he was driving collided with a snowplow on the outskirts of Iowa City.
Hawkeye fans, and college basketball fans in general, were devastated by Street’s death.
Iowa will honor Street’s legacy before Saturday’s game. Combine the emotion from that ceremony with hosting the Big Ten leader and the arena should be electric.
Now it’s up to the Iowa players to cap the day with what would be a monumental victory.
But judging from Wednesday’s performance, the Hawkeyes have to improve dramatically to have any chance of doing that.