Back in December, we revisited a great moment in Rutgers men’s basketball history, when they won the 1978 Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. Myself, along with Richard Kent, a long time Rutgers fan and someone who has worked in college basketball for many years, aside from being a very successful attorney, will periodically continue to cover past moments of glory in program history. Today, we mark the 35th anniversary of one of the biggest wins ever for Rutgers basketball. It was also one of the best games and loudest crowds in the history of the RAC.
On February 27th, 1982, Rutgers upset #6 ranked West Virginia in the last game of the regular season for both teams. The Mountaineers came into the game riding a 23 game winning streak and a 24-1 record overall, while Rutgers was fighting for an NCAA bid with a 17-8 record. The game was sold out and many longtime Rutgers fans recall this contest as a true RAC classic. Richard was in attendance and here are some of his thoughts on that historic victory.
The game was played in 1982 and Rutgers won 74-64. WVU was #6 in the country and were led by a kid by the name of Greg Jones, a 6’2” guard who was Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, both that season and the year after. That next season, his senior year, West Virginia beat the #1 team in the country in UNLV. He was eventually drafted to the NBA in the 3rd round. Rutgers was led by Kevin Black, who had 18 points, and Clarence Tillman, who was the transfer from Kentucky, had 15 points.
Rutgers was coming off a very difficult upset loss at GW, in which they lost by one point the game before.
The RAC was completely packed for this matchup. I was there. I would compare the noise level to the UNLV home win (1992) and probably attach the Penn State home win (note: 1989 Atlantic-10 Championship game).
Earlier this season, Rutgers had beaten #8 UCLA in the Meadowlands. They had lost a close game to a really good Princeton team. They were blown out by #1 North Carolina, as well as at Duke. Rutgers had played Duke both the year before, as huge favorites and lost at the RAC by 2 points, and were favorites again this year at Duke, and go blown out. Those were the first two seasons with Coach K at Duke. They played a pretty adventuresome out of conference schedule back then.
Rutgers had played West Virginia three weeks earlier in this season and lost, when the Mountaineers were ranked 18th at the time. They lost 59-53 in a competitive game. This time around, they were able to pull it out at the RAC. West Virginia started the game 5 for 21 from the field and a lot of it was credited to the Rutgers defense. (note: Rutgers was 8th in the country in field goal % defense at the time and held WVU to 36% in the game.)
Rutgers ended up losing in the second round of the NIT to a really good Purdue team that should have been in the NCAA Tournament.
The conference, then the Eastern Athletic Association, nicknamed the Eastern Eight, contained a mix of future Big East and Atlantic 10 teams. West Virginia won the regular season title, while Rutgers finished second. However, in the conference tournament, both Rutgers and West Virginia fell short to 3rd place Pittsburgh in the semifinals and finals, respectively. Both rounds took place on Pitt’s home court. West Virginia ultimately disappointed in the NCAA Tournament, losing in the 2nd round to Fresno State.
As for Rutgers, after their 2nd round appearance in the NIT, the following season head coach Tom Young took them to another NCAA Tournament appearance, where they lost in the 2nd round to St. John’s. Their 1st round win over Louisiana-Lafayette is the last time Rutgers won a game in the NCAA’s. Tom Young led the program for two more seasons, but failed to make the postseason and left for Old Dominion. The true golden era of Rutgers basketball, which included 19 winning seasons, two .500 records, and zero losing campaigns between the 1964-65 and 1984-1985 seasons, was officially over. My hopes for a resurrection some day in the future under first year head coach Steve Pikiell can be read here.
The win in 1982, which took place exactly 35 years ago today, stood as the highest ranked opponent that Rutgers defeated until two seasons ago. That was the signature win of the Eddie Jordan era, when Rutgers upset #4 ranked and eventual national finalist, Wisconsin at the RAC in January 2015. Our own Dave White captured the emotion of that win here.
To read more about the historic win over West Virginia, here is the article featured in the New York Times.
Thanks to Richard for helping me to highlight one of the biggest wins in program history. If you have any requests for next time we travel down memory lane, leave them in the comments or contact me on twitter here.
This year’s team will be back in action at the RAC tomorrow night against Maryland. I will have a full game preview tomorrow morning.