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My top 5 games from Rutgers men's basketball's season

Senior guards Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker closed out their careers on the Banks with a memorable season as The Daily Targum ranks its top five games from the 2021-2022 campaign.  – Photo by Scarletknights.com

The 2021-2022 Rutgers men’s basketball season produced some of the most wild and entertaining games the program has ever seen. 

From buzzer-beaters, late-game comebacks and huge road wins, the Scarlet Knights (18-14, 12-8) had 13 games decided by one possession, adding up to a 7-6 record. With all of these memorable moments, I figured it’s only right to give my top five wins from this season of Rutgers basketball.

Disclaimer: My system for the rankings is a combination of impressiveness, magnitude and entertainment value.

Honorable mentions: Jan. 4 vs. Michigan and March 6 vs. Penn State

Before we delve into the top five, I want to mention some games that just missed the cut.

Against the Wolverines (19-15, 11-9), senior guards Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. put on a scoring clinic. The two Knights stars combined for 47 of the team’s 75 points in the program’s first-ever win over Michigan.

The thing that made Baker and Harper’s performances so impressive was their efficiency. Baker scored 27 points on just 15 shots and knocked down tough shots all night. Meanwhile, Harper scored 20 points on 13 shots and did most of his damage from behind the arc, as he was 5-6 from three.

Meanwhile, on an emotion-filled Senior Day against the Nittany Lions (14-17, 7-13), Rutgers pulled out another win in nail-biting fashion. I know every Knights fan sweat profusely in those final minutes.

It was the perfect send-off for a senior class and regular season that has pushed the program so far forward, and that is why I had to give it recognition in this article.

No. 5: Feb. 12 at then-No. 14 Wisconsin

Each of Rutgers’ four wins in its winning streak against ranked opponents was as impressive as it gets, but the jewel in the crown was its 73-65 win at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

It was done first on offense, as Harper scored 21 points and hit three three-pointers. Helping Harper was junior guard Paul Mulcahy, who was on a mission during this stretch of games. The Bayonne, New Jersey, native continued his scorching February in the win with 18 points and five assists while Baker had 16 points.

On defense, the case for senior guard Caleb McConnell to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year was bolstered, as he tied a career-high with six steals and made eventual Big Ten Player of the Year Johnny Davis a non-factor with just 11 points.

I can confidently say that without this win against the then-No. 14 Badgers (25-8, 15-5), the Knights would not have made the NCAA Tournament.

No. 4: Feb. 16 vs. then-No. 12 Illinois

Of all the games Rutgers played at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Livingston campus this season, the game against the then-No. 12 Fighting Illini (23-10, 15-5) was the most electric environment of the season. And that is saying something.

The blackout game lived up to the hype that was building around it. With the Knights riding a historic three-game winning streak, Rutgers fed off the crowd to down Illinois 70-59.

Harper led a balanced scoring effort with four players in double figures while Mulcahy continued his hot streak with 13 points and a game-high seven assists. The Knights never trailed in the win.

It never felt like the Fighting Illini had a chance from the tip-off, and that was thanks to the strong play of Rutgers and the raucous crowd that backed the team up.

No. 3: Feb. 9 vs. then-No. 16 Ohio State

This game was the quintessential Baker clutch performance that Knights fans have become so accustomed to over the years.

On the back of the Rutgers legend, the Knights overcame an 8-point deficit in the final 4 minutes of the game to pick up a monster win, contributing to the four-game winning streak.

Baker finished with a game-high 25 points, 14 of which came in the second half. He also scored or assisted on the final 10 points and made the game-sealing block to win the game. It was perhaps Baker’s best performance of the year.

In addition to Baker, this game is known for McConnell’s chase-down block of Malaki Branham with 2:29 remaining. Without the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year's effort on that play, it is very possible Rutgers would've lost the game.

Dylan McCoy, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and head sports editor at The Daily Targum, does a great job encapsulating the excitement of the Jersey Mike’s Arena crowd after the wild comeback in his 88.7 WRSU-FM call.

No. 2: March 2 at Indiana

“Harper ... Remember what he did against Purdue — can he do it against Indiana? Yes!” said the Big Ten Network’s Brandon Gaudin as Harper buried the Hoosiers (21-14, 9-11) on their senior night.

The stakes could not have been higher entering this game. While both teams ended up making the NCAA Tournament, it was widely accepted that whichever team won would likely make the Big Dance at the other's expense. These stakes set up what was a wild college basketball game and final few minutes.

Clutch free throw shooting from sophomore forward Aundre Hyatt and sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi offset a shocking Mulcahy ejection to leave the game tied at 63. This is where Harper steps in.

Harper got to his spot on the left wing, hit Race Thompson with a between-the-legs hesitation and rose up to bury the game-winner, silencing the crowd at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. The shot and win secured the Knights’ second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Harper led Rutgers with 19 points in the win, Baker had 13 points and Omoruyi had one of his six double-doubles on the season.

No. 1: Dec. 9 vs. then-No. 1 Purdue

It is safe to say Indiana basketball fans are happy that Harper declared for the NBA Draft.

It would have taken some Saint Peter’s-type magic in the Big Dance to top this game, but regardless, the win over the then-No. 1 Boilermakers (29-8, 14-6) is a game that will live in Knights lore for the rest of time.

Entering this showdown, Rutgers was enduring a rough stretch. A few weeks after losing three straight games to non-conference opponents and a blowout loss to Illinois, the Knights were desperate for a big win. Rutgers also had to beat the No. 1 team in the country without Baker, who was out of the lineup due to a hamstring injury and the flu.

The game featured everything you could ask for in a basketball game. A high-quality opponent, a fired-up Jersey Mike’s Arena, highlight plays and, of course, the most memorable shot in program history.

It is easy to forget that the Knights were in grave danger of losing this game, as Purdue led Rutgers 57-47 with 8:34 to play after a Sasha Stefanovic three-pointer.

Despite this, the Knights never quit and were propelled by big games from all across the roster. Notably, sophomore forward Mawot Mag scored 12 points and threw down a thunderous dunk with 1:09 remaining that brought the crowd into a frenzy.

McConnell was key as well. In addition to his 12 points, he played Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-level defense on the Boilermaker guards and consistently blew up the Boilermakers' offensive sets.

Then there was Harper. After what should have been Harper’s biggest shot of his career with 13 seconds to play, the Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, native was called on to hit one more shot.

What followed can only be described as a moment in history. Harper’s game-winner not only gave Rutgers its first-ever win over a No. 1 ranked team, but it also reinvigorated life into what was a dismal season.

Without Harper’s game-winner and 30 points, this season looks and ends drastically different.


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


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