Iowa Men's Basketball

Grit and depth: Iowa Hawkeyes' youth and vets out-tough Rutgers

Freshmen Keegan Murray and Ahron Ulis help Iowa beat No. 14 Scarlet Knights on road

Iowa basketball players celebrate after defeating Rutgers 77-75 Saturday at Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.
Iowa basketball players celebrate after defeating Rutgers 77-75 Saturday at Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J. (Noah K. Murray/Associated Press)

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — This was coaching improvisation, and the results of it left big grins on the faces of Iowa’s men’s basketball players as they left the Rutgers Athletic Center court Saturday afternoon.

This was a big darn Big Ten win, a 77-75 triumph for the No. 10 Hawkeyes (9-2, 3-1 Big Ten) against 14th-ranked Rutgers (7-2, 3-2), a team that had lost just one of its previous 25 games on its home floor.

This was for youth and seniors. The Hawkeyes didn’t lose a beat with freshmen Keegan Murray and Ahron Ulis in the game, and actually gained a few. But graybeards Luka Garza and Jordan Bohannon certainly made their presence felt in the clutch.

This, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, “was won with grit. We beat a really, really good basketball team.

“We turned it over 15 times. We gave up 16 offensive rebounds. Normally, you lose those games, you just do. We kept coming.”

Murray grabbed the rebound of Joe Wieskamp’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled with 16 seconds left and Iowa down 75-74. He made both free throws.

Iowa swallowed up Rutgers center Myles Johnson at the other end and forced Johnson to knock the ball out of bounds with four seconds to go. Starting guard Connor McCaffery, in the game for the first time since injuring an ankle three minutes in, inbounded the ball successfully to Wieskamp, who made the first foul shot and missed the second, leaving Iowa up 77-75.

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Rutgers had three seconds left to tie or win after rebounding the miss. Iowa’s defense, a sore spot in its two losses to Gonzaga and Minnesota away from Iowa City, got in the Scarlet Knights’ faces. Jacob Young’s heave from 40 feet didn’t touch the basket.

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

Garza, who had 25 points on just 11 field-goal attempts, said something to his teammates something before the game that must have stuck with them.

“I told the guys that we had never beaten a ranked team on the road since I’ve been in a Hawkeye uniform,” he said, “and we wanted to do that today.”

The last such win for the Hawkeyes was in March 2017 at Wisconsin. Bohannon, a fifth-year senior, was there for that. He was there for this, too, scoring 13 points including a pull-up jumper with 48 seconds left for a 74-73 Iowa lead.

“We had a lot of things to prove,” Bohannon said.

Such as being able to defend and out-tough a talented and defense-minded team. Iowa outshot the Scarlet Knights from the field, and made 18 free throws to Rutgers’ four.

The game had 18 lead changes and 19 ties. It felt like it was getting away from the Hawkeyes when Johnson’s jam gave Rutgers a 54-47 with 9:37 left. Then Iowa peeled off the next 10 points, with the first two baskets in that run coming off setups by Ulis, a 6-foot-3 freshman from Chicago who hadn’t played in a previous Big Ten game.

Ulis was also in the game when Iowa had a 10-0 first-half run. He matched Bohannon’s team-high four assists, and the Hawkeyes scored eight more points than Rutgers when Ulis was in the game.

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When Connor McCaffery went out, Fran McCaffery needed other options. Ulis was one, and frosh guard Tony Perkins played four first-half minutes. Murray played 22 minutes, and had career-highs of 14 points and nine rebounds.

Iowa goes back east Thursday, to play Maryland.

“I think people say that just because we can shoot the ball very well, they think you’re shooters so you’re not tough,” Garza said. “We have a tough group.”

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

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