Rutgers has not been invited to dance yet, but it may want to start thinking about a tuxedo fitting and a deposit on the limousine.
If the Scarlet Knight Hype Train had not left the station yet, it is a runaway locomotive now following a rollicking 59-50 triumph over Indiana on Wednesday night that delighted a raucous sellout RAC crowd in Piscataway and moved Rutgers into a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten and into a likely win-and-theyre-ranked home game against Minnesota on Sunday.
There are still 14 regular season games to go, plus the conference tournament. And Steve Pikiell will do his best to remind everyone he can of this reality, chiefly his young team. But while the head coach doesnt want his charges reading their press clippings and soaking in the social media love (and hate) on their phones, a long-suffering fanbase is going to use theirs to Google the last time this program has been to the NCAA Tournament (1991) and had a winning record (2006), and then pinch themselves. Because this was the kind of night that makes March Madness feel within the Scarlet Knights grasp.
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The run to start the game. Geo Bakers surprise return from a broken thumb. Gov. Phil Murphy and Greg Schiano sitting courtside with heralded Roselle Catholic recruit Cliff Omoruyi in the row directly behind the Rutgers bench. A 10-2 run after Indiana took advantage of a sluggish few minutes midway through the first half and grabbed a brief lead. An 8-0 run to open the second half. A Baker layup that almost blew the roof off the place with 12 minutes to go and gave them a 17-point advantage, their largest of the game. Stingy defense. Energy off the bench.
And, after Indiana pulled back within seven late, a strong close-out down the stretch with Baker delivering a dagger slam dunk with 1:58 to go. That put the Scarlet Knights back up by 12 and secured a 12-0 on-campus start for the first time in program history.
Graduate senior forward Akwasi Yeboah had 14 points and seven rebounds to lead the Scarlet Knights, who are now knotted with No. 24 Illinois and Wisconsin for second place in the Big Ten, a game behind league-leading and 15th-ranked Michigan State. The Fighting Illini own head-to-head wins over the Badgers and Rutgers; the Scarlet Knights have a win in hand over Wisconsin as well. If they beat the Golden Gophers this weekend, they have a strong chance to crack the Associated Press Top 25 on Monday for the first time since 1979.
Rutgers (13-4, 4-2) opened the game on a 12-0 run and led by as many as 17 in the second half, only trailing (by a point) for a three-minute stretch in the first half. The Scarlet Knights held the Hoosiers to 31% shooting and a woeful 2-of-17 showing from 3-point range.
Caleb McConnell had 10 points and Myles Johnson added eight points for Rutgers. McConnell also had five boards. Baker had seven points and four rebounds. Justin Smith had 15 points to lead all scorers for Indiana (13-4, 3-3). Aljami Durham had 10 points and Joey Brunk had 10 points and a game-high 10 boards for the Hoosiers.
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