Top 5 Rutgers wins under head coach Steve Pikiell
Over six days, the Rutgers men’s basketball team played against Miami on the road, came back home to play then-No. 9 Michigan State on short rest and traveled back on the road to face No. 12 Wisconsin. Now, the Scarlet Knights have a little break to catch their breath before their next opponent, Fordham.
With no basketball to report on and a slew of close games for Rutgers recently, The Daily Targum's sports desk has been thinking about the top-5 wins for the Knights under head coach Steve Pikiell.
So, without further ado, here are the five most notable wins in the Pikiell era:
No. 5 — Feb. 4, 2017 @ Penn State, 70-68
A year after winning just one conference game, Rutgers reached two milestones in this game against the Nittany Lions — nabbing their second conference win of the season and their first ever Big Ten win on the road.
Then-sophomore guard Corey Sanders was lights-out from beyond the arc, going 4-5 from behind the arc and led all scorers with 25 points. Then-junior forward Deshawn Freeman wasn’t far behind, as he went 6-8 from the field for 15 points. He also added eight boards as the Knights out-rebounded Penn State 39-27.
Rutgers survived a late push by their cross-state rivals and won the game, 70-68.
No. 4 — Nov. 28, 2018 @ Miami, 57-54
Happening just last weekend, the Knights pulled this one by the skin of their teeth and escaped Coral Gables with the thrilling one-possession win. The victory marked the first true road win for Rutgers under Pikiell since the game mentioned above.
Sophomore guard Geo Baker came up big in this one, leading the team with 16 points and adding seven rebounds and six assists in a career-high 39 minutes. He also blocked a shot from beyond the 3-point line with less than a minute remaining to seal the win for both the Knights and the Big Ten in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The 54 points scored by the Hurricanes were the fewest point total since they scored 50 against then-No. 1 Virginia last season.
No. 3 — Dec. 16, 2017 vs. No. 15 Seton Hall, 71-65
It was a tale of two halves in this in-state rivalry game. Down 42-32 at halftime, and as much as 13 at one point, Rutgers regrouped, coming out of the locker rooms and shocking the Pirates. The Knights shut them down, storming back from 39 points in the second half to win 71-65.
Both Sanders and Baker came to play and combined for 39 total points to completely energize the sold-out crowd that came out to watch.
The stunning win was Rutgers' first against a nationally-ranked team since a 67-62 win against No. 4 Wisconsin back in Jan. 11, 2015 and prompted many of the 8,318 spectators who came to storm the court. The win also brought the Garden State Hardwood Classic trophy back to the Banks.
No. 2 — Jan. 21, 2017 vs. Nebraska, 65-64
Down 64-59 with a minute and a half remaining, the Knights needed a miracle to come out with this win — and it got one.
Rutgers scored the final 6 points of the game, with the final 2 coming as time expired as Sanders missed his initial shot, grabbed the rebound and scored on a last-second putback for the Knights' first conference win of the season.
Sanders scored a season-high 25 points, but none were more important than his final 2.
“We wanted to get the ball in Corey's hands and make something happen," Pikiell said. "I thought we had a couple different options on that play and when he got to the rim, they iced the ball screens, so they did a good job, but he attacked like he was supposed to and got the ball up on the rim. We wanted to have a chance and knew we would get a rebound attempt.”
No. 1 — March 1, 2018 vs. Indiana, 76-69
A day after reaching the second round of the Big Ten Tournament by defeating Minnesota as the No. 14 seed, Rutgers' cinderella story was supposed to be over as they took on conference powerhouse Indiana.
But the Knights refused to have their season end, and inside a raucous Madison Square Garden just 30 miles outside of Piscataway, Rutgers stunned the No. 6 seeded Hoosiers to move on to the quarterfinals — the highest seed to reach the round of 8 in the history of the tournament.
Once again, Sanders put the team on his back, scoring 28 points and putting the exclamation point with a dunk late in the game that cut Indiana’s season short.
Along with his performance in the quarterfinal loss against Purdue, Sanders earned himself a selection to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team — the first for a Knights player and Sanders’ final contribution for Rutgers as he entered the NBA Draft after the season.
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