The Rutgers men’s basketball team defeated Nebraska at home on Saturday afternoon by a narrow score of 75-72. The No. 24 Scarlet Knights (15-5, 6-3) and the Cornhuskers (7-13, 2-7) almost went to overtime at the sold-out Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), but junior guard Geo Baker had something to say about that.
The game was deadlocked at 72-72. Coming out of a timeout, Rutgers had the ball with 30 seconds left. Baker, despite starting the game on the bench, was the man with the ball in crunch time. While he has had decreased minutes recently due to his thumb injury, he is still the team’s unquestioned veteran leader.
Baker dribbled the ball down to 17 seconds and attempted a three-pointer. The ball clanked off the rim and into the outstretched arms of graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah. The clutch offensive rebound was one of many important contributions Yeboah made on the day, as he led the Knights with 20 points.
Yeboah immediately kicked it back out to Baker at the top of the key. Baker had not been having a particularly good game at this point, with 3 points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field. With that being said, the team still trusted its captain with the last shot. The suspense thickened in the arena with each second that he dribbled. As the final seconds counted down, Baker crossed over, stepped back and launched a long three-pointer.
Pure chaos ensued at the RAC. The noise was deafening as the shot went in, and the team swarmed Baker. Not only did Rutgers preserve its undefeated home record, but Baker also proved that the injury did not take away his clutch gene. He is still the go-to player in a do-or-die situation.
"When that shot went in, it was just a winning feeling," Baker said. "It felt really good. But it's not about me making the shot, it's about us winning the game. There were so many other plays before that shot that helped us win this game."
In addition to Yeboah's, many of those “other plays” were also made by sophomore center Myles Johnson (9 points, 11 rebounds), sophomore guard Caleb McConnell (12 points, four rebounds) and junior guard Jacob Young (12 points, three rebounds). Going past the box score, though, the entire team played impressive defense at the end of the game, holding Nebraska scoreless in the final three minutes.
“Five straight stops," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "There were long rebounds too. Everyone had to come together. We're a good defensive team."
Defense and rebounding are the reasons why the Knights are 13-0 at the RAC, the best home record of all Division I programs. Once again, they won the battle of the boards in this game, 42-35. If the team can keep out-rebounding its opponents on a regular basis, Rutgers can stack up against anyone in the country.
With their home game against Purdue on Tuesday, the Knights have a chance to sell out the RAC five games in a row for the first time in program history. The loud fans have provided the team with a formidable home court advantage this season, and that does not seem likely to end anytime soon.
"The RAC was awesome," Pikiell said. "The environment helps us a ton. It wasn't pretty, but I kinda like those games. You have to figure out a way to grind out some games."
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