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Rutgers stays undefeated at home with victory over Purdue

The Rutgers men's basketball team secured its 15th win at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), helping it maintain the best D-1 home record in the country. The No. 25 Scarlet Knights (16-5, 7-3) took down Purdue 70-63. Rutgers was up 17 in the second half until the Boilermakers (11-10, 4-6) made the game a nail-biter down the stretch, cutting the Knights' lead to 3 with less than a minute to go. 

Before the game, Rutgers paid tribute to the nine that lost their lives in the helicopter crash on Sunday, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant. The Knights sported Bryant tribute shirts and the RAC community had a moment of silence before tip-off. Junior guard Geo Baker reflected on Bryant’s passing. 

“It’s a terrible situation, but it makes you look at life differently. I always viewed Kobe as someone who was indestructible or immortal. He’s a God in the basketball world. It’s just something you don’t expect to hear," Baker said. "We talked about it before the game and just enjoy every moment of this game whether you’re playing well or playing bad. You can still be special. This is a special group and we're just enjoying this season.”

Rutgers sparked a run in the first half after sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. made a highlight play. After getting emotional during the Bryant tribute, Harper Jr., who wears No. 24, saved an out-of-bounds play by diving into the stands. He then sprinted to the other side of the court to finish an alley-oop. The RAC was electrified after that.

The Knights ended up shooting 54% to end the half, a game high. Rutgers' defense was stellar as well, forcing Purdue to make 11 turnovers in the first half alone. 

The Boilermakers, who are usually very disciplined with protecting the ball, struggled with the Knights' defense all night. They averaged only 11.7 turnovers per game before last night's contest, but reached their season average before the second half even began against Rutgers. 

In the second half, the Knights struggled with their shooting, sporting a 33.3% mark for the latter part of the game. Although the team struggled with its scoring, Rutgers showed its defensive abilities within the last 3 minutes of play. One of the plays made was a clutch steal by graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah. 

The Knights have the third-hardest schedule in the nation. Yeboah shared his thoughts on how his leadership will help Rutgers down the road.

“Great teams always find a way to win," Yeboah said. "Caleb made big-time free throws. It’s just all about being positive and leading by example.”

Sophomore guard Caleb McConnell lead the night in scoring for the Knights with 16 points. He shot a perfect 12-12 from the field in the process. Rutgers had four players in double figures once again: Yeboah (10), Harper (10), Baker (10) and McConnell (16).

The biggest takeaway from this game is that head coach Steve Pikiell’s ranked squad has the best Divison I home record in the country. As a result, there have been five straight sellouts. Pikiell shared his thoughts on the Knights' home court advantage and what the Rutgers community means to him. 

“I mean, since I got here, they have been great. They’re coming and they are loud, you know? I mean, our students, you walk around campus now, and our students have been great," Pikiell said. "They’re all very important to us. It’s been great, and these guys are young, they like playing in front of their peers, season ticket holders, the place was loud, and it helps us. It helps us a great deal."

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

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