This is what it feels like when an old barn roars back to life and lifts up a team, a fan base, an entire athletics department.
This is what it sounds like when the biggest night in 31 years rolls around and everyone rises to the occasion, from the miracle-working coach, to the never-say-die players to the long-suffering fans and the well-oiled student section, even the woman who chucked a 3-pointer from behind her head and banked it in during a TV timeout to win $750.
This is what it looks like when, after 29 years of soul-crushing defeats, naked free throws, ill-timed snowstorms, run-ins with umpires, abusive practice methods and awe-inspiring incompetence, Rutgers finally puts it foot down before the other shoe could fall.
The truth is, no one knows with any certainty if this 78-67 upset of No. 9 Maryland is enough to get the Scarlet Knights into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Bracketologists will debate and the faithful will wring their hands until Rutgers wins a game away from home or Selection Sunday, whichever comes first.
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But try telling the sea of humanity that flooded the RAC floor Tuesday night after the biggest win this campus has seen in generations that their team doesn’t deserve to Dance. It’s hard to argue with them, or with the performance the Scarlet Knights delivered with their season on the line.
“The place was jumping. I’m proud of my team,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “A great win for us tonight. We’ll just try to remain locked in [on the next game at Purdue] and let everyone else talk about that.”
If Rutgers had lost this game, its tournament hopes would have been in dire straits. Instead, the Scarlet Knights made history – a program-record 18th home win this season and the first non-losing Big Ten record since joining the league – denied the Terrapins a share of the conference championship and added a much-needed signature win to their resume in stirring, stunning fashion much to the joy of a raucous sellout crowd.
The often offensively-limited Scarlet Knights shot 49% from the field and torched Maryland from 3-point range, shooting well over their season average when they weren’t throwing down thunderous dunks. They dominated the glass and inside while playing stifling defense, out-hustling the Terrapins all over the court and out-scoring them off the bench. They led by 11 in the first half, 21 in the second and for over 36 minutes in total.
“They’re 18-1 here for a reason,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “Give them credit.”
Jacob Young had 17 points and Montez Mathis had 15 for Rutgers (19-11, 10-9) while Geo Baker added 11. Myles Johnson and Akwasi Yeboah each had nine points and eight rebounds and Ron Harper Jr. had nine and seven.
Maryland’s Anthony Cowan had a game-high 19 points and Jalen Smith had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but the rest of the Terrapins were a combined 12-of-41 from the floor. The Terps’ loss and No. 16 Michigan State’s win over No. 20 Penn State moves the Spartans into a tie with Maryland (23-7, 13-6) for the conference lead with one regular season game to go.
Maryland has No. 25 Michigan on Sunday in College Park while Michigan State will host No. 19 Ohio State in East Lansing the same day. The teams have split their season series, so the regular season crown could come down to tiebreakers with No. 23 Illinois and No. 24 Wisconsin also still in contention, a half-game back.
The Scarlet Knights will close the regular season Saturday at the Boilermakers. A win in West Lafayette would go a long way toward addressing their biggest flaw – a 1-10 record away from the RAC – and would make everyone in Piscataway feel much better about their inclusion in the Madness. But if you ask the 8,000 in attendance for this one, it shouldn’t matter.
“I feel like we’re good enough. I don’t know if we’ve done enough,” Baker said. “But we belong in the tournament. We have the talent, we have the right team, we have the right mindset.”
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