NEW YORK CITY — Geo Baker is here to stay.
The Rutgers freshman guard proved his 15-point performance against Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament was no fluke by following it up with the best night of his young career. Baker scored 25 points — a career-high against Big Ten opposition — on 10-for-20 shooting against No. 8 Purdue in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
He showed he’s not afraid of the spotlight as he embraced the biggest stage he’s ever played on. Baker wanted the ball in the crucial moments and he produced when he got it, knocking down some tough shots and proving he can play with the best of the bunch.
And he’s still not satisfied.
“I think a game like this, a run like this, makes me want to work harder, want to be better because we understand what we came here for and we’re going to work for it,” Baker said. “We’re going to get to that.”
Baker played a perfect compliment to fellow backcourt starter Corey Sanders, who made Madison Square Garden his stage during Rutgers unexpected three-day run through the conference tournament. He took some of the pressure in scoring off of Sanders by replicating his production in much the same way, playing with the swagger of someone beyond his years.
“I’ve been getting on Geo a little bit because sometimes, he’s a little ball shy,” Sanders said. “I had to tell him ‘bro, you got to play. This is what we brought you here for. You’re a big time player and this is a big time stage, you got to play.’ Last two games, he really stepped up his game, made big-time shots for us and that’s the type of guy that he is. Just had to remind him of that.”
It was, in a way, a response to the media and coaches who didn’t vote him onto either All-Big Ten Freshman list, an honor he looked to be a lock for midway through the season. Baker admitted using the snub for motivation, but also acknowledged his struggles down the stretch in the season and said he’s not upset because the caliber of the players who did make the list.
Whether it was his goal or not, Baker showed the conference and the country he’s here to stay for the long haul, that he’s going to be a danger and thorn in their side for years to come.
“I’m very proud (of him),” Williams said of Baker. “He’s the kind of person that I feel he’s not afraid of the moment. He wants to take the big shot. I saw he was hot and I told him ‘just keep doing your thing.’ We’re going to keep giving you the ball. I really believe he has the potential to be a great NBA player. He’s been very slept on. I felt he should’ve been the all-freshman team, at least.
“He just proved to the nation that Geo Baker is someone who is going to be here for a long time. He’s not going anywhere.”
Averaging 31 minutes a night and starting 29 games as a freshman was just the start for Baker, whose role within the program will only increase from here. He’s shown growth not only in his game but also in his leadership abilities throughout the season, an attribute which will be crucial on a team losing four seniors to graduation this offseason.
Baker showed that he — and his team — are here to stay.
Can't even begin to explain this year. Through the ups and downs I wouldn't take anything back! S/O to Rutgers Nation y'all are the best. Time to get back to the gym and improve. We'll back better than ever— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) March 3, 2018
“We showed everybody what we can do, we showed everybody how tough we are and that we’re not going to go away,” Baker said. “That’s something we’re going to carry into next year. I know I’m going to be in the gym and I’m going to make sure everybody else is in the gym. We’ll be back and better next year.”