Indianapolis — Geo Baker has been very vocal the last two years using his voice to raise awareness about inequities in college sports.
He will use his platform for as long the Scarlet Knights keeps dancing. Baker helped Rutgers to win its first NCAA Tournament victory in 38 years.
Baker poured in 13 points, including the winning layup with 10 seconds left in the contest, and the 10th-seeded Scarlet Knights beat No. 7 seed Clemson 60-56 on Friday night in the opening round in the Midwest Region at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It’s better than I imagined, honestly,” Baker said. “This is something that we’ve all dreamed of for a really long time, but to hear the Rutgers fans and they’re just going crazy, and just knowing that we survived and advanced in March, that’s something that I’ve always imagined. It was crazier than I ever even pictured.”
Both teams exchanged buckets in the opening half in a defensive battle. Ron Harper Jr. led RU with eight points in the opening half. The Scarlet Knights held Clemson to 31% shooting from the floor in the opening half, but at the half, Clemson had a 26-23 lead.
The Scarlet Knights (16-11) was last selected for the NCAAs in 1991, an appearance that ended with a first-round loss to Arizona State. RU’s last victory in the tournament came in 1983 against Louisiana.
“I’m excited about the outcome of the game,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “I respect Clemson a great deal. We knew it would be one of these games. I really liked our poise down the stretch. Everybody that checked into the game did some unbelievable things. I’m excited for Rutgers Nation and I’m excited to get to live another 40 minutes.”
Jacob Young, Caleb McConnell, and Baker each had 13 points. Baker had a late basket to ice the contest. McConnell had his second career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“Our mentality is you never give up on the play,” Baker explained. “I’m happy that I made the play. That made it March. All of these game are going to be like that. It was everything I hoped for. Our guys are really excited. This is something we’ve all imagined for a long time and it was crazier than I’d even pictured. Just to hear all the Rutgers fans in there cheering, we survived and advanced. It was an amazing feeling.”
Paul Mulcahy came off the bench to jump start RU early in the second half, making two three pointers deep from the corner. The Scarlet Knights dominated the boards, holding Clemson to just one rebound in the opening eight minutes of the second half.
RU sprinted out to 13-2 run to take the lead, taking a double-digit advantage at 50-39. The Tigers responded with a run of its own, which Young broke with a three-pointer from the top of the key. The game was tight down the stretch, knotted at 55 at the under-four minute media timeout. A late bucket from Baker sealed the victory.
With the victory, Rutgers advances to the Round of 32. The team will meet No. 2 seed Houston on Sunday at 7:10 p.m. on TBS from Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I want to first give it up to Clemson, they were a very tough team,” Caleb McConnell said. “I feel like our defense won it for us, getting stops on the defensive end. It was a great game, a great team effort on both ends, we just toughed it out tonight.” We just wanted to stick to Rutgers basketball and do what we do. Get stops, play with each other and finish out tough games like that.”
Only once has RU won multiple games in the tournament. In 1976, the Scarlet Knights reached the Final Four, where they lost to Michigan.
- Rutgers’ victory was the first NCAA Tournament win since 1983, when RU defeated Southwestern Louisiana 60-53.
- The win over No. 7 seed Clemson was the highest seed that RU defeated in the NCAA Tournament since topping No. 3 seed Georgetown 64-58 in 1979
- The team won its sixth all-time NCAA Tournament game, improving its all-time NCAA Tournament record to 6-7.
- Rutgers earned its second all-time win over Clemson, evening the series at 2-2.
- Gave coach Steve Pikiell his first ever NCAA Tournament win as head coach.
Clemson reached the round of 16 in its last tournament appearance in 2018, but the Tigers have lost in the first round in four of their last six NCAA trips.
Head Coach Brad Brownell’s Postgame Quotes
“Congratulations to Rutgers. That was NCAA Tournament basketball. Their kids played really hard, and I thought our guys did as well. Both teams were very physical and aggressive defensively. The defense was better than the offense for both teams. Rutgers had a couple of balls that seemed to fall their way, and, in a game like this, where there’s some ebbs and flows, the easy baskets often make the difference. Give the Rutgers kids credit. They got a couple more easy baskets than we did, and I thought that was the difference.”