Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Rutgers rebounds from loss of Williams to score win over Iowa

Steve Pikiell addresses media as Rutgers defeats Iowa in first game without Mike Williams. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

PISCATAWAY, NJ -- It goes beyond numbers, 9.2 points per game scoring average and 22 minutes per game. It goes beyond usage and possessions. 

Mike Williams is a senior, a captain. Losing someone with that experience and respect is always a factor reaching beyond statistics and numbers. 

It would be unfair to say Williams was not missed on this chilly night. As a leader and spark off the bench, his absence is felt. On Wednesday night, everything else clicked for Rutgers as the Scarlet Knights soundly defeated Iowa, 80-64, for their second Big Ten win of the season.

Rutgers (12-8, 2-5 Big Ten) got out of the gate with an 11-4 start over the first six minutes. The Scarlet Knights showed a great deal of energy on both ends, crucial to the start and evident throughout. After Jordan Bohannon buried two threes to bring Iowa (10-10, 1-6 Big Ten) within one point, Rutgers then went on another run, building a 14-point lead halftime.

Both head coaches, Steve Pikiell of Rutgers and Iowa’s Fran McCaffery, felt this was a case of Rutgers sharing the ball and defending. The Hawkeye mentor took it a bit further adding, “the first half and a good part of the second, we were going too much one-on-one offensively. It’s just not who we are.” Six days ago, Iowa was down 20 at Illinois. They came back to win in overtime. Tonight was different, as Rutgers came out strong again increasing their lead to 20 points, and more.
   
Pikiell believes a good part of the victory centered around Williams, who sat on the bench enthusiastically cheering his teammates on. 

“Mike got hurt on Saturday, then we had Ohio State the next day,” he said. “That was not much time to prepare. Since then, we've had a few days to adjust. It’s been all hands on deck. We told each and every guy to be ready. Losing Mike, we lost a leader; a near-double-figure scorer who can hand out assists and rebound. Everyone had to take on their role and be ready. The guys responded.”

Rutgers was led by Corey Sanders with 18 points. The Scarlet Knights had three other double-figure scorers as Geo Baker added 17, Issa Thiam 16, and Deshawn Freeman 14. Beyond the spread of scoring wealth, the thing that impressed Pikiell was the sharing of the ball. Rutgers handed out 18 assists on 29 field goals for a 62 percent rate. Sanders paced the team in that category as well, dishing out eight helpers. 

“We shared the ball as a team,” Sanders said. “If someone was open, we got him the ball. It is so gratifying to make the pass to an open teammate and see them bury the shot.” 

Still, Rutgers moves on, wanting Williams in the lineup but realizing that will not transpire.  

“We lost a leader and someone who can do so much out there,” Sanders said. “He is tough to replace, but we all had to step up we had a job to do. The main one these last few days was to prepare for Iowa.” 

Mission accomplished.

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