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COLUMN: Top five games from Rutgers men’s basketball’s 2023-2024 season

Despite not performing the best in 2023-2024, the Rutgers men's basketball team still had a few memorable games this season. – Photo by Evan Leong

It was a disappointing season for the Rutgers men’s basketball team, who suffered its first losing campaign since 2018-2019. Despite this, the Scarlet Knights (15-17, 7-13) still had some significant and exciting victories, so let's rank the five best games from Rutgers’ season.

My ranking criteria included, but were not limited to, historical significance, upset victories and the entertainment value of the games themselves.

Honorable Mention: February 3 at Michigan

It is no secret that Michigan was a flawed team this year. The Wolverines were the worst team in the Big Ten with only three conference wins. That being said, the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had been a house of horrors for the Knights, as they were 0-5 all-time in Ann Arbor going into the game. Rutgers was also coming into the game on a three-game losing streak.

Despite this, the Knights were spurred on by the debuts of sophomore center Emmanuel Ogbole and redshirt junior guard Jeremiah Williams, along with a second-half comeback to get their first-ever victory at the Crisler Center.

Rutgers held Michigan to just 4 points in the final 9 minutes of the game to earn the victory. Sophomore guard Derek Simpson gave a standout performance for the Knights, scoring an efficient 19 points during his 32 minutes played.

The game also stands out since it sparked a four-game win streak for Rutgers.

No. 5: February 6 at Maryland

All four games from the win streak were included in this list because they were the best the Knights played throughout the season. Rutgers’ game against Maryland was far from an aesthetically pleasing performance, but it was a classic Steve Pikiell grind-it-out victory.

The game was close throughout, but the Knights seemed to be in the driver’s seat when they took a 9-point lead on a Simpson jump shot with approximately 3 minutes remaining. 

But as Simpson celebrated his jump shot, the referee gave him an extremely questionable technical foul that turned the tide of the game. The Terrapins used their newfound momentum to mount a comeback and were down 3 points with the ball and just 17 seconds left in the game.

With Rutgers’ backs against the wall, it was able to put together an impressive defensive stop to pull out the crucial road victory and get its second win of the four-game streak.

It was a gutsy and physical defensive performance for the Knights, who won despite only scoring 56 points. It was also one of senior forward Mawot Mag’s best performances of the season, as he led the team with 15 points and also chipped in with three rebounds.

No. 4: February 15 vs. Northwestern

Rutgers’ win at Jersey Mike's Arena on Livingston campus against Northwestern was the last of its four-game win streak. The Knights were without Mag and had to overcome a double-digit deficit in the second half.

The second-half comeback was led by Williams, who hit a multitude of tough shots to bring Rutgers back into the game and send the Jersey Mike’s Arena crowd into a frenzy.

At the end of the game, the Wildcats had two chances to tie the game with three-point shots, but the Knights' defense held strong, and Northwestern missed both of its opportunities to give Rutgers the 63-60 victory.

Jersey Mike’s Arena was loud throughout the game, and the win gave the Knights newfound hope that they could make the NCAA Tournament. While those hopes were never realized, the win generated the most postseason excitement that Rutgers mustered all season.

No. 3: January 17 vs. Nebraska

The Knights' win against Nebraska was their most improbable victory of the season, as there were 14 lead changes, sending the game to overtime.

Rutgers shot an abysmal 53 percent on free throws and faced a double-digit deficit with less than 10 minutes left in the game, yet still managed to come out on top.

In overtime, a three-pointer from graduate student guard Austin Williams created some separation for the Knights, and they were able to hit some clutch free throws down the stretch to close out the victory.

The game had too many twists and turns to count, and the fans were once again fired up the whole night. Senior center Clifford Omouryi had one of his most dominant performances of the season, notching a 14-point, 15-rebound double-double. Senior forward Aundre Hyatt led the team with 17 points.

From a neutral standpoint, this was Rutgers’ most exciting game of the season, and it also gave the Knights a win over a team that would go on to make the NCAA Tournament.

No. 2: December 9 at Seton Hall

Getting a win against your most hated in-state rival will always be huge, but winning on the road, in a place where you have not won since 2013, should not be understated. I debated for a while about putting this game in the number one spot, but it just narrowly lost out.

Despite the fact that Rutgers won by 7 points, the game was not particularly close throughout. The Knights commanded Seton Hall with a double-digit lead for most of the game.

Mag made his season debut while fifth-year guard Noah Fernandes led the team with 19 points and hit several clutch shots down the stretch. Omoruyi was dominant inside with 11 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks on his way to hoisting the Joe Calabrese Game MVP award trophy.

The Knights went into the Prudential Center in Newark to steal the Garden State Hardwood Classic trophy from what would turn out to be a very good team.

No. 1: February 10 vs. then-No. 11 Wisconsin

It was a close call, but the best game of the season was Rutgers’ win over then-No. 11 Wisconsin at home in February.

It was the Knights' only ranked win of the season, as they thoroughly dominated a very good Badgers (22-13, 11-9) team in front of a raucous home crowd.

The game was never particularly close, as Rutgers caught fire and never cooled down. The Knights shot 58 percent from three-point range and were physical and quick on defense to keep Wisconsin’s offense uncomfortable.

Jeremiah Williams relentlessly got to the rim and finished with a team-high 18 points. Omoruyi controlled the paint for Rutgers and finished with a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double. Fernandes caught absolute fire from three-point range, making all five of his three-pointers.

The Knights combined relentless defense, high-octane offense and fantastic three-point shooting to breeze to victory. The game was a brief glimpse into what Rutgers could have been if its potential had been completely fulfilled. It was also the third win in the Knights' four-game win streak, giving the fanbase hope that they could make a postseason tournament run.

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

To view more of Ellis Gordon's work, follow @EllisVGordon on X.

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