Rutgers shocks Big Ten with 76-69 upset over Indiana
NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Rutgers won its opening round game against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament. The game was at Madison Square Garden, a semi-home court for the Scarlet Knights. That was their moment — they got a win against a down-and-out Gophers squad.
Everyone expected them to bow out against Big Ten blue-blood Indiana and the big dogs of the conference would battle it out.
And when the game tipped off, the Hoosiers nearly ran Rutgers right out of the World's Most Famous Arena. It was 24-8 and everything was going wrong for the Knights.
Junior guard Corey Sanders wasn't making shots. The offense was stagnant and sloppy and Indiana couldn't miss a shot.
But the team wasn't ready to go home. Senior guard Mike Williams and fifth-year senior forward Deshawn Freeman were not ready to call it a career.
If you blinked, you might have missed the 21-4 run, sparked by Freeman's offense and the team's defense.
"I thought De(shawn) really gave us terrific energy," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "Geo Baker, coming off the flu, had great minutes, too. I told the guys I believe in what we do, I believe in our defense, I believe in our players. We just have to stay the course."
Pikiell's guys did just that, fighting through just about everything the Hoosiers threw at them, en route to a shocking comeback victory and the biggest win of his tenure on the Banks.
With the Big Ten Tournament moved to Madison Square Garden, the "purists" of the conference from the Midwest were not happy. They didn't think Rutgers deserved to essentially host the tournament and that it was another mistake by commissioner Jim Delany.
Even though the Knights won their first game, no one thought they had another one in them. They were 7.5-point underdogs in their own backyard.
But neither Pikiell nor anyone associated with the team doubted the program one bit.
"We did something special I knew we could do," Pikiell said. "And it was nice to do it here at Madison Square Garden."
Not only did Rutgers win, but it looked like winners. It battled through grossly uneven officiating, with the foul-shot discrepancy being 25-8 in favor of Indiana before the Hoosiers started intentionally fouling.
And when it had to close out the game at the free throw line, the second-worst team in the Big Ten at the charity stripe came through.
No one was more clutch at the line than Baker, who made all four of his attempts, after battling the flu and not looking like himself as of late.
"(Geo) showed some big cajones tonight," Sanders said.
But Baker knew that those issues were in the past and he needed to step up for his team.
Baker added 15 points, two rebounds and an assist in the big upset at the Garden.
"It was a big stage, and I just had to step up and make big plays," he said. "The whole time (I was) just telling myself that I gotta be special and step up for the team. I didn't want to go home today."
But the Knights never would have been in that spot if it weren't for the second straight dominant night by Sanders.
The night after willing his team to a win with 23 points, he casually dropped in another 28 on 60-percent shooting from the field with three assists to go with it.
Sanders scored 6 straight points late in the second half, including back-to-back dunks to put Rutgers up 69-63 after Indiana fought back with three 3-pointers.
But at the end of the day, playing in its own backyard, the team showed the Big Ten that it is no pushover. The Knight faithfuls showed up and made an impact.
The players fed off of that energy and lived up to the motto set forth by Pikiell: 40 gets you 40.
Play 40 minutes of Rutgers basketball, and you get another 40 the next day.
"It's great, man. We love it," Baker said of the crowd. "It feels like we got the home court advantage, and we feed off it."