That’s what a 29-year-old drought sounds like that could end soon. That’s how it feels. It didn’t matter to face a top 10 team with big March plans. The recent struggles were insignificant.
All that mattered was that the sold-out crowd could feel and express the importance of Tuesday night in sheer volume, and the Rutgers players responded by treating their 40 minutes on the floor with incredible urgency.
Maryland attended this showdown and led the Big Ten, arguably the best conference in the country. But the ninth terrapins were just another punching bag that night. Rutgers, in desperate need of a win, put his best performance of the season together at his crucial moment, beating Maryland 78-67 for a win that could make the difference between the first dance since 1991 and the need to settle for it Disappointment, that’s the NIT.
It could be Rutgers (19-11, 10-9) who visits Purdue on Saturday ahead of next week’s Big Ten tournament and wins a game outside of the RAC where it ended 17-1 on Tuesday evening. No team with fewer than three away wins has won the NCAA tournament since 1994, but Rutgers now has victories against the likely tournament teams, Penn State, Seton Hall, Maryland, Illinois and Wisconsin. Tuesday’s thorough defeat should only improve the reputation of the Scarlet Knights on the selection committee and improve their 34 NET rating.
In any case, the players and fans were allowed to celebrate this moment together – the crowd stormed the Platz am Horn, a celebration that is rarely seen in Piscataway.
That much is clear. Maryland (23-7, 13-6) didn’t look like a top 10 team against Rutgers. The terps shot 20 percent (6 out of 30) from a 3-point range and couldn’t take much away from Rutgers on the other end of the floor. The Scarlet Knights shot 48 percent off the field and hit 7 out of 16 from below. Jacob Young led with 17 points and Montez Mathis with 15 points, while Maryland’s star Anthony Cowan Jr. scored a quiet 19 points.
Despite controlling the first 20 minutes, which limited the planned NBA lottery Jalen Smith to just three points, Rutgers was only six points ahead at halftime. But the Scarlet Knights never let the Terps get closer, as the lead in the second half was double-digit 1:29. After Ron Harper Jr. dropped a 3-pointer, Rutgers was 13 years old and the entire building was on its feet. When Young scored a goal in the transition and fell gently into a ball to increase the advantage to 17, the RAC was deafening.
The rest of the night was the culmination of this memorable year at the RAC. Rutgers led under 20 at the timeout under 8. Maryland missed 23 of its first 26 3-pointers. Even with the game in hand, the crowd stayed loud and absorbed everything that could be the last look at this team, except for a NIT home game.
It remains to be seen whether this win will bring Rutgers to his first NCAA tournament in 29 years or whether a fourth home win in Quadrant 1 will be enough, which was as dominant as shellacking on Tuesday.
However, there is little doubt that this Rutgers team, who only lost to Michigan at home, are among the 68 teams in the dance. It must now prove that it can play like this outside of Piscataway. There are still two options. It could no longer return to the street with momentum.