IOWA CITY, Iowa — Rutgers gave Iowa problems.
It’s a sentence that’s easier to handle after the Hawkeyes won, 68-62, on Sunday. But it doesn’t change the fact it wasn’t a pretty game against a team that’s 0-21 on the road since joining the league.
So where does Iowa go from here?
Unfortunately, it’s going be more of the same.
The Hawkeyes are young, starting four freshmen. Ups and downs — and there were plenty of both with the Scarlet Knights — are part of the rules, like the “Freshman 15” for a college student living in a dorm.
There will be progress. Regression may occur. The team will move forward and backward, sometimes in the same game. This is the journey of a men’s basketball team finding its way.
And yet the Hawkeyes are still 10-7 overall and an even 2-2 in Big Ten play.
“What I expect is not perfect execution,” coach Fran McCaffery said on Sunday night, “but I expect consistency of effort.”
It wasn’t there early against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers used an 8-0 run to build an 8-3 lead.
It wasn’t there late in the first half. Rutgers went on another 8-0 run to tie it at 32 at intermission.
It wasn’t there after halftime. Rutgers used a 15-4 run to build an 8-point lead as Hawkeyes fans could seriously contemplation losing a game the team couldn’t afford to drop.
No, the Hawkeyes weren’t great on Sunday. The rim protection wasn’t there most of the game. Rutgers grabbed too many offensive rebounds and stifled Iowa in the half court.
McCaffery was right in his postgame comments. The Scarlet Knights are better, but they couldn’t get much worse and are still ranked No. 137 nationally, according to KenPom.com.
Rutgers isn’t a great team and the Hawkeyes made this game harder than it needed to be.
But Iowa won. The Hawkeyes fought and found a way to turn a 9-point second-half deficit into a victory. For a team that’s learning what it takes to be successful in the Big Ten, that matters.
“Coach has been saying it will be like this every single game,” point guard Jordan Bohannon said, “physicality-wise, athleticism-wise and we just have to keep our composure.”
They did. A late 17-4 run secured the victory. McCaffery switched to a zone. The Hawkeyes forced turnovers and the offense found room to run in transition.
Peter Jok was Peter Jok. The guard scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Forward Cordell Pemsl added 13 points. Forward Dom Uhl broke out of his slump and was an impact on both ends with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks.
The Hawkeyes grabbed the game late and never gave it back.
“Seeing a guy make a play and know he was working hard — that’s contagious,” Pemsl said. “One guy sees someone makes a play that is really good and everyone wants to start doing that. That is when we come together.”
Iowa can’t always wait for a big moment to happen. Big Ten teams, including the next opponent, No. 20 Purdue, will bury the Hawkeyes before it arrives. One of the next things Iowa needs to learn is how to shorten, and eliminate, the lulls that kept popping up in the first four conference games.
“We need to do it from the start,” Pemsl said. “That is something we need to work on, but we’re glad that it happened tonight.”
This is the life of a young basketball team. It’s not always going to be a smooth ride. It’s best to accept it and secure your safety belt.