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Rutgers misses chance at top-10 ranking with painful loss to Iowa

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The 30-foot prayer failed to draw iron, and Jacob Young stayed down on the floor for a few extra seconds.

Myles Johnson came over to help him, as the opponent celebrated around them.

Slowly, they walked to the sideline, their heads down.

This was a loss that won’t be easy to get over, a two-point setback that easily could’ve gone the other way. Instead of a rousing victory and a potential top-10 ranking on Monday, the Scarlet Knights have now lost two of their past three in the unforgiving Big Ten.

“We’re just upset,” Ron Harper Jr. said over Zoom after No. 14 Rutgers fell to 10th-ranked Iowa, 77-75, at the fan-less RAC on Saturday afternoon.

“We feel like we should’ve won the game,” added Geo Baker — one of four Rutgers players to score 13 points, along with Harper, Myles Johsnon and Montez Mathis. Young led the team with 17.

Iowa was just too efficient when it mattered on the offensive end, executing like an experienced Final Four contender can, eliminating a seven-point, second-half deficit by exploding for 30 points over the final 8:59, 15 from National Player of the Year favorite Luka Garza.

“We played one of the best teams in our league, and we were one possession short,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We’ve got to find that one possession, and we will. The guys take all losses hard, and I’m thankful that they do. They really care.”

Ultimately, an offensive rebound and the free-throw line decided this memorable game that swung back and forth like a see-saw.

Ron Harper Jr. blocks a shot for Rutgers.

Iowa forward Keegan Murray beat Rutgers (7-2, 3-2) to a loose fall and sank two from the charity stripe with 14.1 seconds left. The Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, made just 4 of 12 at the line and failed to convert on their final possession, when Johnson lost the ball on the way up. Iowa (9-2, 3-1) was 18-of-23 from there.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Harper, who was 0-for-3 from the line himself, said of Rutgers’ shooting from there. “You’re not going to win a lot of ball games like that.”

But it was Rutgers’ calling card — its stingy defense — that really let them down. It just couldn’t get stops over the final nine minutes. The Hawkeyes scored on six of their final possessions, slicing up the Scarlet Knights’ usually suffocating defense. Garza (25 points) was held in check until those final minutes when he began to take over.

“That’s what they do — they score in bunches,” Pikiell said. “We kind of held them at bay for those bunches. Down the stretch, they got a few. They’re really good and they have a lot of weapons. A lot of answers.”

It was a dizzying finish, with five ties and 12 lead changes over the last 6:59. The two teams were trading haymakers in the middle of the ring like a pair of fighters refusing to accept defeat. Iowa landed the last punch, it just so happened.

“My takeaway is we can hang with anybody,” Baker said.

Junior Caleb McConnell made his debut from a season-long back injury and was scoreless in 11 minutes off the bench. A part-time starter a year ago, the 6-foot-7 guard averaged 6.7 points and 3.7 rebounds a year ago.

“It’s going to help us a lot in the future,” Baker said.

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