The pair sat at the podium in the interview room of the Rutgers Athletic Center, one on either side of Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell after they picked up their sixth straight win to open the season.
Minutes after leading the Scarlet Knights to a 77-75 win over Hartford Nov. 25 in the most competitive win of the first six, graduate transfer center C.J. Gettys and junior forward Deshawn Freeman listened as their head coach credited them for leading the Scarlet Knights to their best start in over four decades.
“These two guys were great,” Pikiell said. “They were good leaders today and they figured out a way to win, which is what I wanted to do.”
It took a 20-5 run to close the first comeback win of the season for Rutgers as it turned around a 13 point deficit in the final five minutes.
It was Gettys, by far the most experienced member of the Knights, who concluded the final push, hitting the game-winning layup with seven seconds remaining that sent the Knights into a frenzy.
“I got to think a long ways back (to remember the last game-winner I had),” Gettys said in the postgame press conference. “It feels good, it feels real good.”
But had it not been for Freeman, the Knights wouldn’t have been in position to steal the win.
The captain contributed 9 of his career-high 26 points in the final eight minutes, keeping Rutgers within reach while the Hawks seemingly hit every shot they took, setting up Gettys' opportunity to get the first game-winner of his collegiate career.
The connection was one of many the pair has had on the court early this season, an effective partnership made possible by the chemistry they’ve built off it.
It all started when Gettys, a graduate transfer from UNC-Wilmington, used slang he learned in his time in North Carolina in the locker room. Most of his teammates in the locker room would be unsure of what he was saying, but not Freeman, a Rocky Mount native who grew up two hours away from where Gettys played the first three years of his college career.
“We say stuff and I know exactly what he’s talking about,” said Freeman, who also came to Rutgers via transfer, arriving from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. “It’s like a down south slang or whatever, and the other group of guys sit there like “what are y’all talking about?” So things like that, that’s how we became close.”
The friendship blossomed from there, the pair admitting to hanging out frequently, even being spotted together rocking matching gray-on-gray tracksuits at the football team’s 39-0 loss to No. 8 Penn State earlier in November.
— Sam Hellman (@SamHellmanScout) November 20, 2016
To solidify the significance of the friendship, the pair has a nickname — Ghost Gang — which has become a hashtag started by Gettys that's gained traction among the fans.
“Me and Deshawn, we developed that just hanging out a lot,” Gettys said of how the name came about. “You’ll see us one minute, next minute you won’t see us. We kind of go ghost on ya.”
They hope to be ghosts to opposing coaches as well.
Gettys arrived at Rutgers over the summer having contemplating a professional career overseas after graduating from UNC-Wilmington. He changed his mind at the last second, citing “the money situation not panning out” among other reasons for deciding to return for his final year of eligibility.
He chose the Knights over other programs like TCU and Purdue, electing to help Pikiell build a program in Piscataway, bringing with him a wealth of experience — including a trip to the NCAA Tournament last season — height Rutgers desperately needed, as well as an expansive sneaker collection.
Freeman came a year before the newly emerging fan favorite and other half of Ghost Gang joined him.
He played in Rutgers’ first seven games last year before a knee injury kept him out for the remainder of the season. Months of recovery and multiple pounds shed later, Freeman is exceeding the impressive level he played at to open last season, leading the Knights in scoring (13.8 points per game) and rebounding (8.8 boards per game) through eight contests.
With a combined 21 appearances for Rutgers between them, other teams won’t have much film to study how the tandem works together, an advantage that adds another layer to their cumulative persona.
“We kind of come up and surprise you out of nowhere on the court, that’s kind of the theme behind (#GhostGang),” Gettys said. “(Other teams) don’t really have too much background info on us, Deshawn being injured last year and he was at (Hutchinson Community College), so you don’t have a real full scouting report on him. I played at a mid-major, so you kind of think of how I’m going to play on a bigger stage, so we kind of surprise them ghostly … we’re a 1-2 punch, two peas in a pod, the 4 and the 5.”
How the tandem will fare against more formidable opponents is yet to be seen. Like most of their teammates, Gettys and Freeman struggled in the Knights’ first test of the season in a 73-61 loss to a Miami team vying to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Ghost Gang combined for 15 points, seven rebounds and an assist in 43 minutes between them, a mediocre performance in the first time they faced an opponent with superior talent.
They bounced back three days later with a win over Morgan State in which they were the top two scorers for Rutgers, combining for 37 points and 19 rebounds as the Knights matched their win total from a year ago in 25 less games.
The chance of them repeating that performance on a grander stage has yet to be determined.
They'll have plenty of chances with a Big Ten schedule that includes a pair of meetings with No. 17 Wisconsin — one in Madison, the other in Madison Square Garden — along with two separate trips to the Hoosier State to take on No. 13 Indiana in Bloomington and No. 15 Purdue in West Lafayette. Whether they'll be able to take advantage is another story yet to be told.
But regardless of what transpires on the court, most game nights will likely end the same way that Friday after Gettys and Freeman led Rutgers to victory over Hartford — with the pair leaving the facility to spend some time together off the court after pouring all they had on it.
"That’s my brother, literally. I’m so glad I came here, met him, got to play behind him every game," Gettys said following the win over the Hawks. "He’s got my back, I’ve got his."