We’ve seemingly hit a stalemate in this Rutgers basketball season as Covid-19 has begun to spread throughout the locker room. The game on 12/18 against Rider has officially been canceled and the game scheduled for 12/23 against Central Connecticut State has been postponed to New Year’s Day. The Knights haven’t played a game in over two weeks, making it a great time to recap what we’ve seen thus far.
Since the last update, Rutgers is 2-2 including a win over the #1 team in the nation. The Knights are now 5-5 (1-1 conference), which is much worse than any fan would’ve realistically hoped and expected. But the way these last 4 games have fared provide a glimmer of hope for this struggling Rutgers squad.
On November 30th, Rutgers took on Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. In this primetime ESPN matchup, the Knights were the better team from the get-go. Entering this game, Clemson had the third best 3-point percentage in the nation, and Rutgers had the third worst. However, Rutgers shot 36.8% from beyond the arc while Clemson shot just 22.2%. Rutgers also outrebounded Clemson and had less turnovers. Rutgers won the game 74-64. Clearly, the Knights shined in the spotlight, but this good fortune did not last for long.
On Friday, December 3rd, Rutgers traveled to Champaign, Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini for their first Big Ten matchup of the season. The Knights came out flat and Illinois never looked back, as they dominated on their way to 35-point victory by a score of 86-51. Rutgers’ highest scorer for the night was Jaden Jones, who scored just 10 points. Cliff Omoruyi and Mawot Mag each had 8, but the Rutgers offense never seemed to show up.
The next game was a game that will be remembered in Piscataway for years to come. Top ranked Purdue came to the Jersey Mike’s Arena for their first game in front of away fans since before the pandemic. Rutgers nation showed up as usual; loud, hostile, abrasive, ready to do and say anything they can to throw off their opponent. The Knights came flying out of the gate, playing toe-to-toe with the #1 team in the nation. At halftime, Rutgers led by 1.
The second half started similarly, with Rutgers hanging with Purdue the whole way. However, a little more than halfway through the second half, Rutgers seemed to have let the opportunity slip away. Purdue had a 10-point lead with 8:30 to go, and fans had reason to believe that Purdue was going to run away with it. But Rutgers clawed their way back, responding with a 6-0 run to pull the game within 4. With a minute left, Mawot Mag made a highlight reel dunk to bring Rutgers within one and had Jersey Mike’s Arena rocking.
The Knights had all the momentum they needed as the fans started a deafening RU chant following a Purdue timeout. Big Ten Network commentator, Brandon Gaudin said it was “hard to hear yourself think,” and Purdue clearly struggled to strategize. After the timeout, the Boilermakers traveled twice, allowing Rutgers to get the ball back despite a pass out of bounds by Ron Harper Jr. Harper took advantage of this travel by scoring a jumper to give Rutgers the lead with 13 seconds to go. Purdue center Trevion Williams answered with a layup with 3 seconds to go. But 3 seconds was all Ron Harper Jr. needed to get down the court and put up a shot from the logo before the buzzer. As time expired, this shot fell for 3 points and Rutgers had defeated the top team in the country for the first time in program history. Fans poured onto the court, and the night will forever be remembered by Rutgers nation.
The Knights had the opportunity to defeat two ranked teams in one week as they took on the 23rd ranked Seton Hall Pirates in the Garden State Hardwood Classic. The bitter rivalry took a pause in 2020 due to the pandemic, but both teams were ready this year as they each came off a home upset of a top 10 team, as the Pirates defeated #7 Texas the same night Rutgers defeated #1 Purdue. The Pirates stayed hot in the Battle for New Jersey, but Rutgers did not. Seton Hall won the matchup 77-63 as Rutgers played sloppy basketball all night. They took a number of contested shots, turned the ball over way too many times, and never found their rhythm.
The Knights next game is scheduled for 12/30 against the Maine Black Bears. The game was pushed from 12/29 due to Covid protocol. There’s no telling whether this game will end up being played, but as of now, nothing is telling otherwise. Rutgers should easily win this game, as it is against a far inferior team at home. However, the same description applied when Rutgers played Lafayette in a game which Rutgers lost.
Tune in Thursday at 1:00 pm on Big Ten Plus as the Scarlet Knights look to finish 2021 on a high note as they take on the Maine Black Bears.