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Rutgers men's basketball defeats No. 14 Wisconsin for 3rd straight ranked win

A 21-point performance from senior guard Ron Harper Jr. helped the Rutgers men's basketball team defeat Wisconsin for the first time in Madison, Wisconsin, in program history. – Photo by Ben Solomon /

The Rutgers men’s basketball team defeated Wisconsin 73-65 yesterday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin. With the win, the Scarlet Knights (15-9, 9-5) have now defeated three straight Associated Press Top 25 opponents for the first time in program history and have catapulted themselves back into NCAA Tournament contention.

It was apparent from the beginning that Rutgers was going to make the afternoon difficult for the No. 14 Badgers (19-5, 10-4) as the Knights jumped out to an early 10-2 lead in the game’s opening minutes. For most of the first half, Rutgers would maintain a multiple-basket lead which grew to 9 points with 6:40 remaining in the half.

After achieving that lead, Wisconsin responded with a 9-2 run which cut the Knights lead to 2 points. The Badgers would take their first lead of the game with 2 minutes to go in the half, but free throws from senior guard Geo Baker and junior guard Paul Mulcahy gave Rutgers a 38-35 lead going into the locker room.

The second half was much more tightly contested than the first, with both teams trading ties and the lead multiple times. Despite numerous Wisconsin leads, the Knights would not trail by more than 3 points. With 5 minutes to go, Rutgers held a 59-58 lead.

After the Badgers took the lead shortly after the 5-minute mark, Mulcahy buried a transition three-pointer with 4:02 remaining to give the Knights the lead for good. The game’s final 4 minutes saw Rutgers outscore Wisconsin 14-7 in route to its highest-ranked road win since joining the Big Ten.

“We are real resilient,” said senior guard Ron Harper Jr. after the game. “We knew that today wasn't going to be an easy game. I feel like we fought the adversity well and executed the game plan. We are playing teams in the top half of the Big Ten right now, and we like it that way. We know what kind of team we are, and we are just going to keep fighting.”

For the 12th time this season, Harper led the Knights in scoring, with 21 points to go along with six rebounds, two assists and one block. Other players to score in double-figures include Mulcahy with 18 points, Baker with 16 points and sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi with 10 points.

Mulcahy also dished out a game-high five assists to help out his conference-best 5.4 assists-per-game average while Omoruyi tied a game-high with eight rebounds. Senior guard Caleb McConnell, who took the challenge of guarding All-America team candidate Johnny Davis, had six steals, giving him 14 steals over the past three games.

“I’ve been saying (McConnell’s) going to go win Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s had 14 steals in three games against terrific teams,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “Tonight he had a real task, and he wanted it. (Davis) is an elite scorer who had 37 points at Purdue. (McConnell’s) a good player, and you see how important he is.”

A major part of Rutgers’ win was its ability to hit free throws. The team knocked down 16 of 18 shots from the charity stripe for 88.9 percent, its highest percentage this season when shooting 15 free-throws or more. The Knights also shot the ball well overall, hitting 51 percent of all shots and 58.3 percent of their shots from three.

For the Badgers, Tyler Wahl finished with a game-high 23 points while Steven Crowl and Davis also finished in double-figures. Davis, who is 1 of 4 players in the conference to average 20-plus points per game, also finished with a team-high eight rebounds.

Rutgers will now return home to take on No. 13 Illinois on Wednesday. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network and 88.7 WRSU-FM.

“This is a great of a place to come and (play) basketball in the Big Ten,” Pikiell said. “We haven’t had much success here. I’m just real proud of the guys … Every guy came up big to win, and every point was huge in this 40-minute league … I am really pleased to come out of here with a win.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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