IOWA CITY, Iowa - Joe Wieskamp has been a fast starter all season.
But there have been times when the Iowa junior forward gets consumed by opposing defenses in the second half.
He wasn’t going to let that happen on Wednesday, and it’s a big reason why the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes snapped out of their current funk with a 79-66 win over No. 25 Rutgers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Wieskamp finished with a season-high 26 points, and Luka Garza added 22.
But it was how Wieskamp finished, and how the Hawkeyes finished, that made the difference.
Wieskamp scored 12 of Iowa’s first 15 points, and had 16 points at halftime as Iowa (14-6 overall, 8-5 Big Ten) led 34-25.
What Wieskamp didn’t want was a repeat of Sunday’s 67-65 loss at Indiana, when he scored 15 first-half points and only three in the second half.
“I wanted to come out here and play a complete game,” Wieskamp said. “Play a complete 40 minutes, 35 minutes, however long I was out there. I kept staying with it. Guys were up in my space, fouling me all game. I thought I did a good job of fighting through that.”
It was also crucial for the Hawkeyes to hold on to a second-half lead — so many double-digit margins have slipped away in their current stretch of four losses in the last five games.
So, coming out of a timeout with Iowa up just 58-50 with 7:48 to play, the ball found its way to Wieskamp, who buried a 3-pointer to push the lead to double digits. The closest Rutgers would get the rest of the way would be nine points.
“It was really more of a drawn-up action that featured (Wieskamp),” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “The reason we did that was he had it going, and we wanted to ride him. He had confidence, and our guys had confidence in him and bringing (the ball) to him. And that was the idea there.”
Wieskamp was tugged at all night by the Scarlet Knights, which is nothing new. What is different in his game is how he is handling the physicality.
“This being my third year, I’ve really gone through it,” Wieskamp said of the difficulties of playing Big Ten defenses. “At times (last season), I didn’t know how to handle that. But going through that has really helped me learn so much. It’s allowed me to learn a lot as a player.”
Wieskamp helped ease the heat put on center Luka Garza in the first half. Garza, who would finish with 22 points, didn’t score until the 8-minute mark of the first half. He had just eight points on 2 of 10 shooting in the half, but Iowa had a 34-25 halftime lead because of Wieskamp.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me when he’s playing like that,” Garza said. “He’s been playing like that all season, and it’s really been helping me a lot. He’s consistent, he’s locked in, and he’s doing his thing. In the first half, when I was missing some shots I normally make, he really picked us up.”
It also helped getting guard CJ Fredrick back. The third-year sophomore has been struggling with a lower leg injury, but he was able to start and play 17 minutes. And while he didn’t score, Fredrick had three assists and two rebounds.
“He’s just a guy who understands how to play,” McCaffery said.
Fredrick has started all 17 games he has played in this season, but McCaffery said earlier in the week Fredrick would be “day-to-day” for the rest of the season with the injury.
“The last couple of weeks have been really frustrating for me as a player,” Fredrick said. “I wasn’t able to be myself. Having good days, having bad days, it’s frustrating. I would say the last week, I’ve been feeling really good.”
Fredrick wouldn’t go into specifics on the injury.
“The scoring stuff will come,” Fredrick said. “I’m not worried about that. … I thought I did everything I could out there today”
Iowa’s defense was locking down the Scarlet Knights (11-7, 7-7), who were just 28-of-64 from the field, 6-of-28 in 3-pointers.
“We were locked in defensively,” Wieskamp said. “We know that we can score the ball with anybody in the country. It comes down to making stops.”
“Our shot selection wasn’t good,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “It has to be really good against a team like this. Tonight we never got that feel. We never got our offense going.”
Geo Baker led Rutgers with 11 points, and Jacob Young added 10.
Iowa heads into a two-game road swing at Michigan State and Wisconsin with a new feeling.
“Obviously we’ve been going through a rough patch, losing some games we felt we played good enough to win,” Wieskamp said. “At the end of the day, it’s a long season. You can only control the team in front of you.”
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