Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball tries to RAC up a big win at Rutgers Saturday

No. 14 Scarlet Knights are imposing opponents

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) tries to block a shot by Rutgers guard Ron Harper Jr. (24) during the Hawkeyes' 85-80 m
Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) tries to block a shot by Rutgers guard Ron Harper Jr. (24) during the Hawkeyes’ 85-80 men’s basketball win over the Scarlet Knights last Jan. 22. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Out of the frying pan, into to the fire.

After winning its eighth-straight home game against a ranked opponent, the Iowa men’s basketball team will try to knock off one on the road today at 1:05 p.m.

Iowa stopped No. 19 Northwestern in Iowa City Tuesday night, 87-72, and in the process set a program record for most consecutive home wins against ranked teams. There’s a stat for everything.

Here’s another: Counting their game against Penn State in Philadelphia last year, the Hawkeyes have lost their last nine games against ranked teams when they were the visitor, dating to 2017.

The road isn’t entirely the road this season. The planes, buses and hotels are still the planes, buses and hotels, but the arenas aren’t the arenas. The Rutgers Athletic Center, more commonly called the RAC, typically gives a big home-court advantage for the Scarlet Knights.

The RAC, which seats 8,000, puts fans on top of the action and those fans get into it. Rutgers itself says the arena has been called “louder than a 757 from nearby Newark.”

Iowa’s players won’t have to worry about fans or their decibel-counts this afternoon when they battle No. 14 Rutgers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten). The Scarlet Knights themselves, however, are imposing enough.

Rutgers hosted Purdue Tuesday night and was without junior guard Ron Harper Jr., who had an ankle issue. He will be in uniform for Saturday's game and presumably will play. Harper averages 23.4 points and 7.1 rebounds.

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Yet, the Scarlet Knights knocked off the Boilermakers, 81-76, with one of their most-efficient offensive performances of the season. Junior guard Montez Mathis made all five of his 3-point tries and had a career-high 25 points.

It’s a fine team that the 10th-ranked Hawkeyes (8-2, 2-1) will face in the RAC. Like Iowa, it’s a veteran group. Guard Geo Baker was a preseason All-Big Ten selection. Myles Johnson is a 6-foot-11 center, a good rebounder and shot-blocker.

Then there’s Harper. If he plays Saturday, the Hawkeyes will be getting close to the full Rutgers. Harper is one of the best wings in the country. The Hawkeyes know him well since he has averaged 24 points in his first three games against them. He has made 25 of his 50 3-point tries this season, and has made just five turnovers in seven games.

Rutgers has had all sorts of nagging injuries this season. Baker missed three games with a high ankle sprain and has only recently started to feel right. Backup freshman center Cliff Omoruyi (5.8 rebounds per game) has missed the last two games with a sprained knee.

Iowa’s first health issue of the season happened in Tuesday’s game when backup point guard Joe Toussaint sprained an ankle. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Friday that Toussaint would play. He is from the Bronx, a 60-minute drive from Rutgers.

The Hawkeyes survived Toussaint’s second-half absence against Northwestern. They could use Toussaint’s speed and defense Saturday.

It’s not Iowa against the world in the RAC this time around. But it’s Iowa against Rutgers, and that’s challenging enough.

Comments: (319) 398-8440; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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