Rutgers excites student body with annual MidKnight Madness event

When the calendar hits October, the Rutgers men's and women's basketball teams are in full swing to return to the hardwood. To entice students to attend the first home game of the season at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), the Scarlet Knights participate in NBA All-Star Game-like competitions at MidKnight Madness, held at the original home for the basketball teams: the College Avenue Gymnasium.

This past Thursday, on Oct. 24, Rutgers hosted the annual event at the Barn (the nickname for the College Avenue venue) with a post-competition performance from New York City native Bryce Vine, who is well-known for hit singles like "Drew Barrymore" and "La La Land."

MidKnight Madness started with the dunk contest with several members of the men's team performing the jaw-dropping basketball move. Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. won the event after leaping over teammate senior forward Shaq Carter to finish a one-handed dunk with the ball in his dominant right hand. 

Critiquing all the dunkers, which also included junior guards Geo Baker and Peter Kiss, was alumnus 149-pounder and the Knights' second-ever national champion Anthony Ashnault along with wrestling head coach Scott Goodale. 

Goodale and Ashnault gave Harper Jr. all 10s, the highest score a dunker can attain in the dunk contest, consistent with the NBA All-Star rules.

Harper Jr. is poised for a breakout year in his second season on the Banks. The Don Bosco Prep alumnus averaged 7.8 points in his freshman season while grabbing 3.1 rebounds per game. He had a season-best 27 points in Rutgers' upset victory over Iowa back on March 2. 

But, for Harper Jr. and the rest of the Knights, this upcoming season — head coach Steve Pikiell's fourth at Rutgers — there are high expectations for the team. They are coming off a seven-win Big Ten performance, the best record the Knights have in the conference since joining in 2014.

"It's more than just a dunk contest. I'm just trying to get all of these fans to come out on Nov. 7," Harper Jr. said. "Last year we made significant strides for Rutgers men's basketball. So, we're just trying to get better every day."

The second event on tap for the evening was the knockout contest, where several students were invited to participate with both teams on the hardwood. Junior guard Arella Guirantes, who averaged 12.1 points per game last season, beat out men's basketball sophomore forward Mamadou Doucoure for the title. 

Doucoure missed time last season because of a back injury, but is expected to see an increased role this year.

Concluding MidKnight Madness was the 3-point contest, which a team consisting of sophomore guards Caleb McConnell and Noga Peleg Pelc won. They were joined alongside Justin Dekovics, a Rutgers Business School sophomore. 

Following the competition, Vince performed on the floor of the College Avenue Gymnasium, with the attended students circled around him on the hardwood.

The women's team starts its season on the road in Mobile, Alabama, for a non-conference matchup against South Alabama on Nov. 5. The Knights participated in an exhibition this past Saturday against Fordham, defeating the Rams 73-57. 

The game between the two local schools was an exhibition with ticket revenue going to the Bahamas Red Cross Hurricane Relief. Junior forward Tekia Mack led the team with 26 points with Guirantes finished with 17 points.

The men's team did not participate in an exhibition prior to the start of the season. But, for Rutgers, it's about honing in on its goals for the season.

"It's a good way to get the students hyped. Really looking forward to our fans this year," Baker said. "We're gonna come with a different approach this year ... We're really excited to get the season started."

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

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