Rutgers shocks No. 4 Wisconsin for momentous program victory
Sitting proudly at the postgame podium, a triumphant Eddie Jordan needed a moment to gather his emotions as he put into perspective the magnitude of what had just happened.
Minutes earlier, he watched as jubilation washed over his underdog roster unanimously picked to finish last in the Big Ten. Fans from the student section slowly streamed onto the Louis Brown Athletic Center hardwood to join in on the celebration with pictures, hugs and high fives.
Up above on the video board, the final score read RU 67, UW 62.
For all the suffering the Rutgers men's basketball team had been through over the past 21 months, everything hit Jordan at once.
Here sat the Scarlet Knights' second-year head coach, reluctantly using his left hand to wipe away tears of joy in 15 seconds of silence after the biggest upset in school history Sunday over No. 4 Wisconsin.
"I'm just happy for our community," Jordan said, breaking down before continuing. "We've suffered, and I'm just happy for them. I'm happy for everybody: the state, our faculty, everybody that supports me, our fans."
No one could blame him.
It had been a painful road for Rutgers (10-7, 2-2) in the fallout of the Mike Rice player abuse scandal in April 2013. Players transferred, donors wavered and faith in a reeling program dwindled.
Jordan, who struggled to acclimate in his return to his alma mater after two decades of coaching in the NBA, needed this moment as much as anyone in Piscataway.
"People have been saying that he can't do it, and this really proves them wrong to see that he actually can," said senior guard Myles Mack, who scored a game-high 21 points and had no turnovers in 39 minutes. "I believe in Coach, and he believes in us."
Belief willed the Knights to a shocker in front of 6,987 fans in an electric RAC for their first-ever win over a top-five team. The highest ranked team the school previously beat was No. 6 West Virginia in 1982.
Mack and senior forward Kadeem Jack found inspiration earlier in the day as they watched NC State upset No. 2 Duke, 87-75.
"We kind of said, 'That's going to be us,' with the whole rushing of the floor and stuff like that," Jack said. "It's crazy for it to come into fruition like that."
Wisconsin (15-2, 3-1) played without versatile 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, a candidate for national player of the year awards, who sat for the first time all season with concussion-like symptoms.
For the better part of 40 minutes, though, the Badgers showed few ill-effects.
Behind 6-foot-9 forward Sam Dekker's 10 first-half points, Wisconsin used a 12-3 run to build a 35-23 halftime advantage. Precision passing and backdoor cutting along the baseline allowed the Badgers to produce 20 points in the paint.
But in the second half, Rutgers rediscovered the defensive intensity that has made it competitive in Big Ten play, clogging the interior as Wisconsin went cold from the field.
"We started to score inside, and obviously that left our 3-point shooters open," said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. "I'd love to have those shots again. I thought we had more wide-open shots in this game than we had in any other Big Ten game."
The Knights' offense finally responded, shooting a blistering 66.7 percent on 24 shots in a rejuvenated home building over the final 20 minutes.
Mack spearheaded a 23-10 run, culminating with a game-tying 3-pointer that made it 46-46 with 12:23 left. Jack added two crowd-erupting dunks in the surge to finish with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.
"Our core scorers started scoring," Mack said. "We got wide-open jump shots, drive and kick, and we just were believing in each other. Every huddle we said, 'Just believe in each other and stay together through thick and thin,' and that's what we did."
Mack's two free throws with 7:19 remaining gave the Knights their first lead of the night, and his layup with 33 seconds left to push the lead back to four sealed the monumental upset.
It also shook the RAC's atmosphere to amplitudes unseen since upsets over Florida and UConn in 2011.
"I don't have a Richter Scale," Jack said, "but I'm pretty sure that was the loudest [I've heard it]."
Jordan longed for this signature moment when he brought a new vision to the program 21 months ago. He sorely needed it considering the Knights hadn't beaten a ranked foe in more than two years.
And as Rutgers bucks overwhelming odds early on in Big Ten life, he senses a program turning point.
"This is hopefully part of the healing process that we have to go through, and the process that we've talked about," Jordan said. "I love my school, I love this community and I'm happy for them."
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.