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OTB Round Table: Rutgers Basketball Tales Of When The RAC Rocked

Our staff retell some of the best moments we’ve ever witnessed over the years

Syracuse v Rutgers Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images

The new season is tipping off two days from now and with twenty-two regular season home games scheduled, it’s time to talk about the Rutgers Athletic Center, which is affectionately known as the “RAC”. It opened 40 years ago this month on November 30th, 1977. Appropriately, the building’s first game was a 81-76 Rutgers victory over blood rival Seton Hall. In addition to hosting Rutgers basketball, did you know the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and Steve Winwood, among others, all played in the confines of the RAC? They did and sadly, I was too young to attend. It might not be the prettiest of venues, but it’s best known for providing a tremendous homecourt advantage for Rutgers basketball through the years.

As a tribute to the RAC, as well as real hope the iconic building will undergo a revival of sorts with head coach Steve Pikiell rebuilding the program, a few of our contributors got together to recall some of the greatest games we’ve ever attended there. In addition, we brought in die hard Rutgers fan, 2010 Rutgers College alum, and the inaugural voice of KnightVision & RVision, Danny Breslauer.

We will cover games in chronological order, starting with the inaugural season, all the way through year one of the “Pikiell Era”. Let’s tip things off.

- Aaron Breitman, managing editor

March 14, 1978 - NIT Quarterfinals - Rutgers 57 Indiana State 56

Bob Cancro: Tom Young was still on a roll after the 1976 Final Four. But even at 24-7, we only made the NIT and had a game at home against Indiana State. My friend said ISU had a really good player named Bird. We went to the game....we won by one point....I didn’t think Larry Bird was all that good. Which is why I cover wrestling.

David Anderson: My parents had not yet met when this game took place so you do the math, but my pops at minimum was in attendance for sure. As a child, I was reminded of this tale many times when I shot hoops on my 3 foot ‘lil sport hoop with Bird’s photo on the backboard, specifically the part about Kelvin Troy’s suffocating defense.

February 27, 1982 - Rutgers 74 #6 West Virginia 64

Bob Cancro: We had some great matchups against West Virginia when we were both in the A10/Eastern Eight. All I can remember yelling - all game - towards these people below us in blue and gold was, “How ‘bout them ‘Neers!” WVU came in at #6. We got tickets waaaay up in the third level on the end away from the student section. Trust me, they would never allow you to build it that way today; it is steep! But we stood and yelled and, yes, Rutgers beat a top ten team that day!

March 9, 1989 - Atlantic 10 Championship - Rutgers 70 Penn State 66

Bob Cancro: It was Bob Wenzel’s first year and he turned it around from 8-20 to 18-13 and a chance to go to The Dance. It was loud - deafening - as I stood the whole game. Somehow we got tickets about half way up the courtside seats behind the RU bench. Recruit Donnell Lumpkin was standing next to me amid the screaming and I remember saying to him, “You’re gonna like being here.” Constant noise and cheering. It was insane, and a bit intimidating. The bleachers were shaking. And Rutgers beat Penn State for the A10 title, 70-66.

Aaron Breitman: I was a month away from turning 12 years old and it was a day that remains crystal clear in the memory of my life so far. It’s funny what you remember through the years, but this night stands out for me in a big way. I even remember driving in the car with my father on the way, eating at Bennigan’s before the game, and walking into the RAC, where the energy had the place busting at its seams even BEFORE tip-off. I sat underneath the basket near the Rutgers bench and I remember feeling the bleachers shaking most of the game. It was so loud and the pace of that game was exhausting. So much tension and excitement with every possession. I had been to many Rutgers games before that night, and many since, but there has never been a basketball game I've attended in my life better than that win. It’s sounds cliche, but it really did sound like the roof was going to be blown off at the end when Rutgers won. It’s been said it was the loudest RAC crowd ever and I’ll vouch for that. It will also be the last time Rutgers will ever clinch an NCAA Tournament berth at the RAC. I am very thankful I was there.

December 7, 1991 - Rutgers 91 UNLV 85 (OT)

Aaron Breitman: Rutgers started 2-0, including a win over Princeton, and hosted legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian the season after leading UNLV to back to back Final Fours. This team was on probation and all the big stars were gone, but it was still a very talented group and Rutgers were heavy underdogs. Just the week before, UNLV took down a Shaquille O’Neal led LSU team by 21 points and eventually finished the season with a 25-2 record. However, the #24 ranked Running Rebels were outrun by Rutgers that night in a wild game. I sat in the upper deck and the crowd was fired up from the opening tip. J.R. Rider scored 30 points for UNLV, but Steve Worthy led Rutgers with 19. One of my favorite Rutgers players of all-time, Donnell Lumpkin from South Brunswick, caught fire with three three-pointers from behind the arc in the second half that sent the crowd into a frenzy. It was a perfect game as a Rutgers fan, as they were the clear underdog, but played really well and there was hope something special was brewing after a 3-0 start and making the NCAA’s two of the previous three seasons under Bob Wenzel. Sadly, this was one of the last great moments during his tenure, but it was still a very special night.

January 18, 2000 - Rutgers 76 Notre Dame 51

Dave White: This was my first experience with a rollicking RAC. I’d been to the RAC before—notably the 1999 NIT game against Clemson—and there was a night in 1999 where you could hear the crowd from outside the building when I got off the bus, also in 1999. But to me, it never truly rocked until this night. Troy Murphy, the Notre Dame star freshman from New Jersey, spurned Kevin Bannon and the Scarlet Knights. At the time, this was a huge story, with the Daily Targum reporting on it well...almost daily. So when Murphy showed up at the RAC, the students were ready. Every time Murphy touched the ball he was booed. Any time he went to the free throw line or turned the ball over, he was serenaded with “Murphy! Murphy.” While fans might not have been able to hear the person next to them and left with ringing ears, Murphy surely heard every boo and chant. Rutgers freshman Todd Billet (who earned his own serenade 3 years later when he returned as Virginia player) made 8 three pointers and Rutgers cruised to a 25 point win.

Aaron Breitman: I was in the student section for this game my senior year and I was one of many that held up a Daily Targum to read when Troy Murphy was announced during introductions of the starting lineups. It was a real college basketball fan experience. As Dave said, the crowd and student section gave an A+ effort in that game and it was clear that the Rutgers team fed off the energy, while Notre Dame wilted. It was a tough season and heartbreaking for me that Rutgers would not make the NCAA Tournament during my college career on the banks, but this game was a major highlight.

January 5, 2002 - Rutgers 89 #24 Georgetown 87 (OT)

Danny Breslauer: This is an oft-forgotten game in an incredible RAC season (that sadly ended with a loss to Yale in the NIT). Rutgers was 9-4 and coming off a Big East opener, 21-point loss at Syracuse. Many believe this was the coming-out party for a sophomore named Herve Lamizana. I remember hearing a little bit about his potential during that rocky November and December of 2001. RU trailed by 18 in the first half of this game and the wind was taken out of a building that wanted to give first-year head coach Gary Waters and his crew some help. Mike Sweetney was an All-American type player for Georgetown and he would put up his usual numbers in dropping 26 points.

The incredible note here is this one: not only did Rutgers trail by 18 in the game, but the Scarlet Knights were behind by 7 points with 3:22 left and fell behind by 5 points in overtime after Mike Sherrod forced the game to the extra session in the final seconds of regulation. Rashod Kent had fouled out more than five minutes before that Sherrod bucket. In the end, Lamizana would steal the show with 19 points and 7 rebounds – and post 7 blocks in a preview of what was to come for three years. The RAC hit its deafening levels as RU forced a mind-boggling 25 turnovers over the 45 minutes of action.

February 23, 2002 - Rutgers 66 Seton Hall 60

Danny Breslauer: You had to know this one was going to be on the list. I don’t think that you can properly quantify the noise level for this Rutgers-Seton Hall rivalry game (which was still the Star-Ledger Shootout at the time)… because I think it was just a mob scene for two hours. I was 13, going on 14 years old for this game – and RU was squarely on the NCAA bubble (17-9, 7-6 in the BIG EAST) – so needless to say there was so emotion in the building. I’m going to throw this out there. My parents are great people… who taught my brother and me to hate nothing in this world. My dad has worked at RU for 44 years. But if there’s one thing I hate on this planet, it’s Seton Hall basketball. OK, good, we got that off my chest.

This game had it all… profane chants from the student section toward Darius Lane, Rashod Kent’s (and Connor Fox’s) Senior Night, Marcus Toney-El body-slamming Mike Sherrod into Section 118 on a breakaway. To this day, I laugh when I see Louis Orr running onto the court, as if he was going to stop Rashod Kent and Jerome Coleman from keeping Toney-El on the ground. In today’s game, there would have been multiple ejections… not just Toney-El… but we’ll just have to be happy it was 15 years ago. RU improved to 15-1 at the RAC using 27 points from Coleman and fighting off Andre Barrett’s 22. My lasting memory: Rashod Kent fouled out in the final moments and walked toward the student section holding his head or wristband, extended his arm in the air in appreciation and walked off the court to piercing screams and cheers.

(editor’s note - this was the game that former Governor Jim McGreevey attended and called the behavior of Rutgers fans “deplorable”, forgetting to mention he was a Seton Hall grad and the above mentioned cheap shot on Sherrod. It still grinds my gears. - Aaron Breitman)

January 29, 2003 – Rutgers 68 #24 Syracuse 65

Danny Breslauer: In an otherwise lost season, this is one of the most famous Rutgers men’s basketball games of the 21st Century. RU was on a 6-game losing streak and hadn’t won in the calendar year 2003. And then, the eventual national champion in Syracuse came to town. Rutgers had made the RAC rock in a couple RU-Syracuse games in recent years before this one – beating both Preston Shumpert and Ryan Blackwell-led teams in Piscataway.

Nothing got the RAC going like 3-pointers… and Jerome Coleman and Ricky Shields obliged for the Rutgers faithful early on. Three after three set the place on fire – and when Coleman was done, he had 31 points on 12-for-23 shooting. A couple stat lines get lost in this game… Herve Lamizana’s 11 points and 14 rebounds, as well as Ricky Shields’ 14 points and 6 assists. Obviously, the game is known for one of the most famous shots by a modern-day RU player… Lamizana’s banked-three in the final 20 seconds to put Rutgers in front and send the RAC into hysteria. However, and most die hard fans know this, the MVP that day was Mike Sherrod. He put the defensive clamp on the star freshman Carmelo Anthony, holding him to 17 points on 7-for-17 shooting. If you look into the top rows behind the RU bench, you’ll see a kid jumping up and down in the aisle after Lamizana’s triple… that kid is wearing a Jerome Coleman No. 11 jersey… and that kid is me.

January 6, 2004 - #1 UConn 75 Rutgers 74

Dave White: This is my RAC game. The one that will stick with me forever. Gary Waters had Quincy Douby and company primed for the number 1 team in the nation to come to town. The fans were pumped up too. In a back and forth affair, Rutgers made UConn work for every point and at one point the Scarlet Knights were up 7 in the second half. Meanwhile, the RAC roared to the point where, during timeouts, you could see Charlie Villanueva looking around the building stunned. There were rumors you couldn’t even hear your coach during the coaching huddles. The place truly roared that night, and when Rutgers came away with a 1 point loss, the entire building gave the Scarlet Knights a standing ovation. That moment wasn’t fondly remembered as the coaches postgame wouldn’t accept the congrats, saying it was a game they should have won.

March 24, 2004 – NIT Quarterfinals – Rutgers 72 Villanova 60

Danny Breslauer: I know that the ’03-’04 regular season had some amazing environments at the RAC, but outside of the famous loss to No. 1 UConn in January, this was the highest decibel-level tip to buzzer I can ever remember. Ricky Shields put on a show from the outset, drilling 6-of-8 threes and opening the door for RU’s transition offense to get the student section jumping, via some Adrian Hill highlight-reel dunks.

It’s crazy to think about how good this Villanova team was on paper – albeit too young. Fraser, Sumpter, Foye, Nardi, Ray, Sheridan. They never had a shot that night. Herve Lamizana blocked 8 shots, Quincy Douby scored 18 as his warm-up for the freshman’s national arrival at the Garden six days later vs. Iowa State. My lasting memory from the night came in the final moments. The students finally settled down from what had been a raucous night… and they realized that RU was bound for the NIT semis. Chants of New York City and MSG filled the building. Gary Waters could smile with the best of them – but his ear-to-ear grin that night said it all. You know it was a great Rutgers win when Jon Mimmo – who I actually saw at a Rutgers football game this September – got in the game!

February 8, 2005 – Rutgers 62 Seton Hall 61 (OT)

Danny Breslauer: Again, a lost season… and one that could have easily been a mail-it-in kind of game. But, not versus Seton Hall. RU had lost 5 in a row and was 7-12. All of the momentum from the 2004 NIT Final was gone. There were rumors that Douby and Shields were not getting along and the team was only 10 days removed from the famous locker room incident vs. Villanova, involving then athletic director and newly-minted RU Athletics Hall of Famer Bob Mulcahy.

This game was ugly in every respect, but the building still rocked. 53-53 after regulation… oof. Quincy Douby scored 19 points and the only other RU player in double figures was the defensive stalwart, Juel Wiggan. The only play that mattered happened as time expired in overtime. Douby made a move as he rose up for a mid-range jumper. He was fouled – hammered, I tell you – by Donald Copeland. OK fine, Copeland didn’t even come close to touching him and referee Les Jones stole the show from head ref Tim Higgins to give Rutgers the lifeline it needed. Douby missed the first free throw, but that awesome image of him guiding the second one through the net and the student section jumping like crazy behind him was surreal (go to 0:07 in this video to see the shot and hear the silky tones of RAC PA announcer John Reardon - ). That noise when it went in rivaled the great ones that I have heard in my nearly 30 years of attending RU games.

December 29, 2011 - The Night the RAC Came Back to Life - Rutgers 85 Florida 83 (2 OT)

Dave White: After the Fred Hill era, Mike Rice was trying to bring the old building back. He’d had some moments in his first year: a tight loss to Pittsburgh and a heart stopping win vs. Villanova. But it would take an old friend returning to really get the building rolling again. Mike Rosario had transferred out of the Rutgers to become a Gator and on a cold December night just after Christmas, he came home. And the fans, much like when Troy Murphy came to town, were ready. They boo-ed, they chanted and Rosario was off his game. He missed threes, committed bad fouls and never got off the bench late. Meanwhile, stud freshmen Eli Carter and Myles Mack had ridiculous offensive nights and took the #10 ranked Gators to double overtime. And then, with seconds left, they took a two point lead. As Florida brought the ball up the court, you could feel the place rumble again. It was time to wake up the RAC, and wake up they did. The fans’ cheering was just as much of a factor as the way the Scarlet Knights played. Up to this point, this was my favorite game to watch from the stands.

March 4 2017 - Rutgers 62 Illinois 59

Dave White: Nothing like a back and forth game to really get the RAC going again. Steve Pikiell’s Rutgers resurgence had begun this year with an 11-1 start that got fans interested. The Riot Squad had taken over the Prudential Center when the Scarlet Knights took on Seton Hall in a close loss. Rutgers had accomplished so many things—like beating Nebraska on a Corey Sanders tip-in and then traveling to Penn State for a road win. But the RAC hadn’t truly rocked yet. And then the Fighting Illini came to town with a ton of momentum and eyeing a shocking NCAA bid. And they went up ten in the second half, it didn’t look like the fans would see a classic game. But out of time out, Mike Williams hit two big threes and the rumble started. Rutgers fought and clawed all the way back and suddenly the fans were on their feet, yelling and imploring Rutgers to win. And when Corey Sanders found Deshawn Freeman for a deep three that swished, and Illinois messed up their final possession, the RAC was back again. And here’s a prediction: this game is just a precursor. The RAC will sell out a big game this year and the old place will rumble and roar like it did in years past.

Aaron Breitman: I was fortunate to be in the press box for this game and this win was a moment that was verifiable proof the program was moving in the right direction. The grit that team showed in this game and the fact the comeback started when Pikiell inserted walk-on Jake Dadika, who immediately fed Williams on those back to back three-pointers, showed that we had a coach who knew the right buttons to push. The crowd the last few minutes of that game, although not a sellout, was as loud as I can remember in recent years. Hopefully, this season we will witness a few more of these type of games and be able to point to this win over against Illinois as the starting point of a true RAC revival!

While we covered many of the greatest wins for Rutgers through the years at the RAC, we weren't there for them all. Let us know in the comments of any great RAC experiences you've had through the years, including any we've already mentioned.

More importantly, as a fan base, let's turn out in big numbers this season to support this team in year two of the Pikiell Era. Something special is brewing and with the help of a raucous environment at the RAC, it could help this team win some big games this season. See you there!