Rutgers forward Ron Harper Jr. drilled a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer from just inside of half court on Thursday night to lift the Scarlet Knights to a thrilling 70-68 upset over No. 1 Purdue. Harper scored a game-high 30 points to give the program its first-ever win against a No. 1 ranked team. The Boilermakers lost for the first time this season after leading by 10 with 8:34 remaining and by eight with 4:38 left before a furious late rally from the Scarlet Knights
Soon after Harper’s shot passed through the net, students at Rutgers Athletic Center stormed the court to celebrate a monumental moment for the program. Rutgers entered as a 13.5-point underdog following a 35-point loss at Illinois last week to begin Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights also lost to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass in November and were ranked No. 217 in the NET entering Thursday’s game.
But none of that mattered once they got the Boilermakers in a battle. Rutgers jumped out to a seven-point lead late in the first half and shot 52% from the floor for the game. That hot shooting helped it withstand a 22-4 deficit in second-chance points and Purdue’s 31-5 edge in bench points.
With the game hanging in the balance, Purdue star sophomore Jaden Ivey traveled while trying to escape a trap with 20 seconds remaining, giving possession to Rutgers as it faced a one-point deficit. On the ensuing possession, Harper drilled the go-ahead basket. However, Purdue responded by going inside to Trevion Williams, who banked one in with 3.4 seconds left to give Purdue a 68-67 lead.
Rutgers did not have any timeouts, but Harper split a double-team by Ivey and Ethan Morton as he crossed half court. Then, with under a second left on the clock, he released a shot from the block “R” logo at mid court. It rattled in, and mayhem ensued.
Mawot Mag and Caleb McConnell added 12 points for Rutgers, and Cliff Omoruyi had 11. Williams led Purdue with 21.
Special moment for Rutgers
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit late in the 2019-20 season, it forced the cancelation of college basketball’s postseason and robbed Rutgers of what would likely have been its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. The Scarlet Knights followed up that disappointing end to their season with another strong season in 2020-21 and made the 2021 Big Dance as a No. 10 seed. But with gyms mostly empty last season, the ability to celebrate one of the best eras in program history was limited.
Amid a woeful start to this season, it seemed like the magic was running out and that Rutgers might be slipping back toward the bottom of the Big Ten. But Harper, who is a fourth-year starter who has helped raise the program from the depths, provided it with a historic moment on Thursday. It remains to be seen whether this team has the chops to be as competitive throughout the rigors of Big Ten play as the 2019-20 and 2020-21 teams were, but the Scarlet Knights’ faithful could finally let loose and celebrate everything the program has done in the last two years because of the moment that Harper provided.
Regardless of what happen with this team the rest of the season, Thursday’s win will go down as one of the top highlights from a memorable era of Rutgers basketball.
Purdue’s defense pays the price
Just six days after struggling in the second half against Iowa and letting the Hawkeyes back into a game that Purdue led by 13 at halftime, the Boilermakers again suffered too many defensive lapses. Purdue got away with it against Iowa, despite letting the Hawkeyes hit 53.1% of their shots in the second half.
But Rutgers made Purdue pay, as the Scarlet Knights made their final six looks from the field. The Boilermakers have proven their offensive mettle on several occasions this season, but the defense has some catching up to do.
Revolving door at No. 1
Gonzaga started the season ranked No. 1 until ceding the spot to Duke following a loss to the Blue Devils on Nov. 26. Duke held the spot for just one week before losing to Ohio State last Tuesday, which cleared the way for Purdue to assume the top spot.
With wins over North Carolina, Villanova and Florida State under its belt, Purdue seemed like a safe bet to hold the spot at least for a couple weeks as it navigate a seemingly manageable portion of its schedule. But after such a stunning upset loss, the Boilermakers should prepare to drop. So who will step up to replace them? That could depend on the outcome of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Baylor and No. 6 Villanova.
If the Bears win that game, they’ll be 9-0 and presumably get their chance to sit in the prime seat. But if the defending national champions lose that game, there will be at least a half-dozen teams with a reasonable case to be No. 1.