Rutgers men's basketball extended their home win streak to six games with a victory over Iowa on Wednesday, improving their overall record to 11-6. The Scarlet Knights were entering an incredibly critical stretch of their season, as they prepared for battle against the Hawkeyes. This gritty team took control over another crucial Quad 1 win, setting the Scarlet Knights one game closer to making the NCAA Tournament.
Leading up to this game, the fans of Rutgers nation were anticipating the usual, powerful and determined starting five; this line-up includes McConnell, Omoruyi, Mulcahy, Baker, and Harper. To nobody's surprise, these players scaled the scene with intent to punish, protect, and prove themselves once again.
The Scarlet Knights began rushing the court, creating an intense atmosphere. They were immediately active and engaged- prepared to make a "garden statement". Coming in as underdogs by 2.5 points fueled the Scarlet Knights; they hoaned in on the "do all it takes" mentality.
From the jump, a rebound by McConnell created an intense, crowd roaring score for a two-pointer hanging off of the rim for a tone-setting bucket. The starters bring the heat and their bench players replaced them with minutes full of heart, digs and powerful defense. Rutgers called their first timeout on the ground at 15:46 on the clock. When play resumed, Dean Reiber was thrown in and used his first few minutes off the bench to show up and put four points on the board with two lay-ups, securing "assist of the game".
Rutgers was doing well at gaining possessions, being quick on their feet, and "dancing" in sync with one another. Missed shots are not due to lack of effort or skill, rather an off-shooting day unlike their previous game against Nebraska where the boys were able to hit the net with their eyes closed. Slight adjustments in court positioning was super key in stopping Iowa from intruding their space of domination. Geo Baker scored a bucket for two points after a five-minute scoring drought on both ends of the court. With a couple of minutes left of the first half, Rutgers gains possession after a scoring-clock foul by Iowa
The Scarlet Knights were in interesting company last night, as both teams were shooting at 30%. After countless number of shots, rim rollers, and misses, the Scarlet Knights inch their way to a tie of 24-24 from a 7- point deficit. The Scarlet Knights go into the half with a score deficit of 3 (24-27).
Right out of the gate, in the second half, the Hawkeyes looked sharp in the way they directed their opportunities, creating advantages at every turn while Rutgers tried to combat these efforts with not only their well-respected defense but inserting their offensive style of play by shooting freely. Wiggling themselves out of a slightly protective mode, Caleb McConnell stepped in to make room for two points on the board following a shot by Paul Mulculhay for another two. After points kept wracking up on both ends of the court, the trend of average play was quickly changing and Rutgers was ready to dominate. Ron Harper comes in with a crowd-satisfying dunk to close the gap before Iowa scored two more points to go up 38-33.
Geo Baker crashed the scene with a tough play to create a score of 36-38; this transitioned into an opportunity to shoot for two buckets which further led to a tie of 38-38. The boys were using every fiber of their being to get physical within plays and strip the Hawkeyes of any sort of positive momentum. Possession switches had been prevalent throughout this game and they were becoming a key point of excitement and further success for the Scarlet Knights. Fouls were also giving Rutgers many second chances for them to still secure their two points and increase their chances to take down Iowa.
Cliff Omoruyi uses his strong frame to continuously snag rebounds to switch his team's position from a scary, defensive situation, to an offensive play in a matter of seconds, as the Scarlet Knights are able to regain posession and run down the court looking fresh and wide-eyed. The Scarlet Knights continued to hree minutes left on the clock, and the game is as close as ever.. finally Rutgers is leading by one point (44-43) before they call a timeout. Iowa begins shooting little sloppy, presumable nerves are at play, allowing room for Rutgers to grow more beastly in their abilities on the floor. Ron slaps a two-pointer on the board, giving the crowd something to cling to... a 3 point lead (46-43).
The clock began to run out and with 58 seconds an important play was under review... possession was awarded to the Hawkeyes creating tension amongst the players and nerves started to run rampant. Iowa started to drive the ball down the court and McConnell unfortunetly earned his third foul to give the Hawkeyes an opportunity to get after their free throws for two extra points- opportunity number one was missed and that was enough to keep some distance between the teams on the scoreboard, unnerving as it is. With 27 seconds on the clock, Hawkeyes step in to grab another 2 points closing the gap and asserting themselves for a score of 46.
At 01.9 seconds on the clock, a foul on Iowa's part saved the Scarlet Knights and created an opportunity for Harper to add a 47th and 48th point to the board. Rutgers secured the win at 48-46 and successfully collected their seventh home streak win.
Ron Harper with a career-high of 15 points this game, began to capitilize on these offensive opportunities. Harper was the last man to shoot after being fouled and given a chance to breathe and regroup before the clock ran out. Harper explains his thoughts during the last seconds of their grinder of a game. "It was just me, the ball and the rim at that point.. I tuned everything else out; it was win time, so I knew what I had to do" he says.
The effort and belief that Rutgers brings to the arena is unmatched; with the mixture of their established presence on the glass and the indescribable home-court advantage, the Scarlet Knights are a force to be reckoned with. Head Coach, Steve Pikiell emphasizes his excitement for his team and their dependable style, " I love this.. it was an old-fashioned grinder".
Next up for Rutgers:
Rutgers faces Minnesota away on Saturday, January 22. Tune in to BTN as you support your Scarlet Knights on the road.