In a game that will go down in the history books, the Rutgers men’s basketball team defeated Purdue last night 70-68. The Scarlet Knights (5-4, 1-1) finished off the program’s first win over an Associated Press No. 1 team on a half-court shot from senior guard Ron Harper Jr. as time expired.
The No. 1 Boilermakers (8-1, 1-1) trailed Rutgers at halftime after what was a back-and-forth first half. After trailing by 7 at the 10-minute mark of the first half, the Knights responded with a 12-0 run to give them a 5-point lead. Rutgers would lead Purdue 36-35 at the break.
As the second half played out, it looked as if the Boilermakers were going to ultimately pull out the victory. Purdue stretched its lead to 10 on a three-pointer by Sasha Stefanovic with 8:34 to play.
Despite losing the lead, the Knights continued to battle down the stretch and slowly worked their way back into the game. A Harper layup with 6:19 to play made it a 4-point game and set the game up for a dramatic finish.
The game became a one-score game once more when senior guard Caleb McConnell landed a difficult fall-away jumper to make the score 65-63 with 2:07 to play. After a free throw from Stefanovic on the other end, sophomore forward Mawot Mag, who made his first career start in the game, threw down a monstrous dunk off a backdoor cut that got the crowd on its feet.
After the dunk, the Boilermakers held a 66-65 lead as the game entered their final minute.
“Once I caught (the ball), I knew I was going to dunk it and get the crown engaged ... we needed that,” Mag said after the game.
The next basket made would be the penultimate basket for Rutgers as Harper worked his way into the mid-range and delivered on a fall-away jumper on his own. With 13 seconds left in the game, the Knights held a 67-66 lead.
The last 13 seconds of the game will be remembered by college basketball fans for a long time. On Purdue’s final possession, Trevion Williams scored a layup to give the Boilermakers the lead with 3.4 seconds to go.
Harper would then take the ball across half-court and shoot the game-winning three-pointer as the clock expired to send the crowd into a frenzy. The student section immediately stormed the court after Harper's shot went in.
“Yeah, it felt great,” Harper said when asked if the final shot felt good off his hand. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is going in, let’s go home.’ I told (my teammates) if they score, give me the ball — we’re going home.”
The Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, native finished off his momentous night with a game-high and season-high 30 points. Harper added 10 rebounds as well to give him his fifth double-double of the season.
“(Harper) and I talk all the time about rebounds. He got his 10 rebounds,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “That was as important as anything because Purdue is an excellent (rebounding team).”
Rutgers had three other players score in double-figures in the win. McConnell and Mag both had 12 points while sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi finished with 11 points and played tough defense throughout the game on Purdue's front-line of Williams and Zach Edey.
Every player on the Knights roster played meaningful minutes in the win, including fifth-year senior center Luke Nathan, who checked into a game for the first time this season in the closing minute of the first half.
The use of the bench was caused in part to the recent flu outbreak among the team. Senior guard Geo Baker, who has missed the three previous games with a hamstring injury, missed tonight’s game with the flu.
Williams led the way for the Boilermakers with a 21-point, 11-rebound performance off the bench. Jaden Ivey, Purdue's leading scorer entering the game, finished behind Williams with 15 points. Edey rounded out the double-digit scorers with 13 points. The loss marks the Boilermakers' fourth straight loss to Rutgers.
The Knights will return to action on Sunday evening to take on Seton Hall in the Garden State Hardwood Classic. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1 and 88.7 WRSU-FM.
“It’s like a dream ... Honestly, if I woke up and I was in my bed after that, I wouldn’t have been surprised,” Harper said. “That was crazy to have a night like that with these guys. We had a rough start to the season, and then to get the first program win against a No. 1 team in the country is truly something special. When that ball went in, I was jumping like a little kid on Christmas.”
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