Rutgers men’s basketball team was defeated by Houston on Sunday evening 60-63 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The loss for the Scarlet Knights (16-12, 10-10) brings the 2020-2021 season to an end.
Scoring got off to a slow start for both teams, as the Cougars (26-3, 14-3) held a 9-5 advantage by the time of the first media timeout with 14:26 remaining in the first half. Despite this and falling down by as much as seven, Rutgers battled Houston every step of the way in the first half, ultimately taking a 30-27 lead into halftime.
The second half saw Rutgers open up a lead that grew to as much as 10 points on a three-pointer by junior guard Ron Harper Jr. with 11:19 remaining in the game. Harper Jr. finished the evening with 6 points to go along with five rebounds for the Knights.
The remaining ten minutes of the game saw Houston steadily climb back into the game while Rutgers tried to protect its lead. After senior guard Geo Baker converted a layup with 2:04 remaining to give the Knights a 4-point lead, the Cougars scored 7 straight points to pull off the comeback victory.
Rutgers was led in scoring by Baker, who finished what could be his last collegiate game with 14 points to go along with four assists, tying the team-high with sophomore guard Paul Mulcahy. On the boards, it was a three-way tie between Mulcahy, Harper Jr. and freshman center Clifford Omoruyi, who all ended the game with five rebounds. Mathis was the only other player to finish with double-digit points for the Knights.
Grimes led all scorers with 22 points while Jarreau followed close behind with 17 points. Grimes also led Houston with nine rebounds. Off the bench, Tramon Mark finished as the Cougars’ third-leading scorer with 8 points.
Rutgers shot 44 percent from the field and held Houston to just 37.3 percent shooting while also shooting better percentages from the three-point line and free-throw line.
On the boards, the Cougars held a 39-29 edge while securing a decisive advantage on the offensive glass, winning the offensive rebounding battle 16-8. Houston also held a lead in the steals category, collecting nine steals as a team.
Despite the loss, the Knights concluded what was a historic season for the program. Among many other achievements, Rutgers reached double-digit conference wins for the second consecutive season, earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in 30 years and won its first NCAA Tournament game in 38 years in their 60-56 win over Clemson last Friday night.
“We've been through so much this year,” Baker said after the game. “It's been two years leading up to this moment. To lose like that today was tough. Afterwards, everyone was just saying how much we loved each other and how proud we were of what we'd accomplished.”
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