Geo Baker's newfound leadership role for Rutgers
The 2018-2019 season has finally come to a close for the Rutgers men’s basketball team, who finished its final game of the year Wednesday night with a loss to Nebraska in the first round of the 2019 Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, Illinois.
The Scarlet Knights were led all season long by its young, yet trusted, sophomore guard Geo Baker. A Derry, New Hampshire native, Baker took this team to new heights this season, something that he was very aware of as he reflected on the year after Wednesday’s game.
“(This season) was a step in the right direction. We’re a young team, so I think we grew a lot as a team as the year progressed,” Baker said. “I think we just learned a lot as the season has gone on and hopefully we can build on that and come back next season even better.”
Baker certainly grew over his last two seasons on the court for Rutgers, in which he has started all but four games at one of the two guard spots.
A proven scorer and passer, Baker averaged 10.8 points per game — third-highest on the team — and dished out 57 assists as a freshman. The 2017-2018 season was highlighted by a 29-point game with 7 3-pointers (most by a freshman Knight since 2000) against Bryant, and Baker’s breakout showing in the 2018 conference tourney.
Despite making a rare appearance off the bench, Baker scored 15 points, grabbed two boards, stole the ball once and assisted on a basket once to help Rutgers upset then No. 6-seeded Indiana and advance to the third round of the tournament.
Although the Knights were bounced out of the tournament in the next game against then No. 3-seeded Purdue, Baker truly gave it his all again from off the bench, scoring a team-high 25 points and grabbing four rebounds.
Baker’s first-year showing translated to this season on the scouting reports, as many opposing coaches had him penciled in as a key defensive focus, and he proved them right. Baker upped his scoring total by more than a point to 12.2 points per game, good for second-highest on the team, and was the only member of the team to cross over the triple-digit mark in assists with 126.
“I think it was a really good season, we had some really big goals coming in, but I’m happy that we did better than what everyone else predicted — projected to be 14th in the league, but we finished tied for 10th — that’s just big for us,” Baker said. “That’s just big for us.”
Baker scored 20 points for Rutgers on three occasions this season in wins over Drexel, Eastern Michigan and Penn State, while also dishing out a team season high of nine assists in a win over then No. 22 Iowa.
The underclassman became the go-to man in clutch moments for the Knights when they needed him.
Although they wound up losing the game on a nation-shocking, corner-banking 3-pointer, Baker hit a step-back 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3 seconds to play against the Hawkeyes back in February.
But just two games later, Baker got put in the same situation and pulled off the same shot, knocking down a go-ahead step-back 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Rutgers a come-from-behind win over Minnesota at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Baker was a major reason why this Knights squad was able to win the most Big Ten games in a season ever since joining the conference in 2014, as well notching the most conference wins in a season overall since the 2005-2006 season, when Rutgers was a part of the Big East.
Now, as he enters next year as one of the most seasoned veterans on the team, Baker hopes to lead this unit of young Knights even higher up in the Big Ten rankings and maybe, just maybe, finally into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
“Having everybody back is just gonna help our chemistry. We’re gonna be a lot better as a team," Baker said. "Now that the guys have a year under their belt, that experience, you can’t really teach that, so that experience is gonna help them a lot and help us a lot,” Baker said.
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