The 2010’s decade is over and our reflections on the past ten years for Rutgers athletics is in full swing. We’ve done a retrospective for football here and here, as well as for wrestling, Dave White and I decided to cover the ten best wins for Rutgers men’s basketball over this period. While the theme is clear, we both approached it a little differently. Dave took the approach of highlighting his five favorite games, while I focused on biggest wins in regard to the impact in the short and long term. All ten were great games and great victories. The list includes seven wins over ranked foes including five in the top ten, three against rival Seton Hall, and an historic win in conference tournament play. Without further ado, here is our take on the best wins of the past decade.
Rutgers 71 Georgetown 68 (February 14, 2010) - Aaron Breitman
This was a late season stunner as Rutgers lost by 25 at Georgetown less than a month prior to this game. It was also the biggest ranked win in 30 years for the program, as the Hoyas came in at ranked 7th in the country. It was a classic Jonathan Mitchell performance as he led the way with 24 points, big man Hamady Ndiaye gave All-American Greg Monroe all he could handle, and Dane Miller made the game winning basket as a freshman. Rutgers was only 13-12 after the victory and it was the last days of Fred Hill as head coach, but it was still a great victory right at the start of the new decade. Writing this piece made me miss Rutgers being in the Big East.
Rutgers 77 Villanova 76 (February 9, 2011) - Dave White
Another stunning upset of a top ten team, as Villanova was number 8 at the time of this game. In Mike Rice’s first season, the Scarlet Knights were showing some tenacity and a ton of grit in what was really a fun season. They had already beaten Miami at home by double-digits and took a top ranked Pittsburgh team down to the wire, but Rice kept telling the media his team was ready to upset a top ten team. And that came on a random weekday night. Most of the game played out like the Wildcats were going to run away with, but the final frantic two minutes were insane. Rutgers caught fire from three as James Beatty made two late (5 for 9 overall) and with only a few second left, Villanova’s Corey Fisher made one of two free throws to extend their lead to three. But Jonathan Mitchell, who scored 25 overall and was Rutgers go to man all season, hit a three to tie... and was fouled! Jay Wright applauded him and yelled out “Big time.” After Mitchell made the free throw and Villanova missed a long throw for a tip in, the students stormed the court. This was just an amazing win and one where the fans who were there will remember forever. I, of course, had to work that night.
Rutgers 76 Seton Hall 70 (OT) (March 8, 2011) - Aaron Breitman
This was a great game in the rivalry, as five players fouled out and Gil Biruta was ejected for throwing an elbow. Beating the Hall at Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tourney made the victory extra satisfying. It also clinched a 2-1 series win that season. (One of the best games I’ve every been to - Dave White). Pirate great Jeremy Hazell had a big night scoring 27 points, but Jonathan Michell came through once again, finishing with 25 points and making 8 free throws in overtime. This was also the win that set the stage for easily the most maddening defeat this past decade with the controversial loss to St. John’s the following day. Still, anytime you can beat the Hall in a decisive third game of the season and do it at the Garden is a top moment that sadly will never occur again.
Rutgers 85 Florida 83 Double OT (December 29, 2011) - Dave White
Probably my favorite game at the RAC since I’ve had season tickets. Mike Rosario was back after transferring from Rutgers to play for tenth ranked Florida. Mike Rice’s “Magnificent Seven” recruiting class including Eli Carter and Myles Mack had been struggling through their freshman season. And then this game came out of no where. Carter and Mack were electric and Rutgers took every punch the Gators through, including a furious comeback in the final minutes of regulation down seven. Carter finished with 31 points, Mack hit a dagger three and even Dane Miller had 16 points. Florida missed a fade away at the buzzer and Rutgers pulled off an improbable win.
Rutgers 67 UConn 60 (January 7, 2012) - Aaron Breitman
This was a major surprise type win as well, as Rutgers was just 8-7 entering this game while UConn was 12-2. Eli Carter and Myles Mack each made three shots from behind the RAC and combined to score 33 points in the victory. The Scarlet Knights defense was stifling and held the Huskies to 37.7% from the floor, including just 4 of 19 for 21.1% from three-point range. This looked like the team Mike Rice wanted to build towards long term and things seemed headed in the right direction. While that didn’t end up being true, this still goes down as a monumental win in the history of the program due to it being over a top ten ranked UConn team (8th). It was also a big moment for New Jersey basketball with Seton Hall and Rutgers beating UConn in back to back games. The Huskies fell apart that season and the end of the Jim Calhoun era was imminent. Knowing Rutgers played a role in their struggles that season is a satisfying historical footnote.
Rutgers 56 Seton Hall 51 (March 8, 2013) - Aaron Breitman
While every time these rivals meet is important, regardless of record, this win was huge for Rutgers for three reasons. It was the last regular season game they’d ever play in the Big East, it completed the first season sweep of the Hall in 12 years and the first time RU finished ahead of the Hall in the Big East standings since 2002. It was a typical slugfest that saw four Seton Hall starters score in double digits but only score 51 points as a team. Myles Mack had 15 points and 5 steals to lead RU to victory. While the Garden State Hardwood Classic has been a great continuation of the rivalry each season, playing twice a year as Big East foes is an era that is sorely missed. Having Rutgers go out on top is a fun card to have in the history between the two schools, despite both finishing the season with losing records.
Rutgers 67 Wisconsin 62 (January 11, 2015) - Dave White
This game truly came out of no where. During Eddie Jordan’s second season, people still weren’t sure what they were seeing in his tenure. Rutgers was sitting at 9-7 and 1-2 in the Big Ten. Wisconsin was ranked number 4 in the country as they ambled into the RAC on a Sunday night. With leading scorer Frank Komisky sidelined, they still lead the Scarlet Knights by 12 at halftime. But Myles Mack (again) and Kadeem Jack exploded in the second half, scoring 21 and 20 points respectively. Mack’s electrifying lay-up with just under a minute left got the RAC crowd to explode... and Rutgers notched the upset. Wisconsin was the highest ranked team they’d beaten in their history. Jordan cried in the postgame press conference and for a moment, Rutgers fans had something to crow about.
Rutgers 71 Seton Hall 65 (December 16, 2017) - Dave White
Steve Pikiell’s first win against a ranked opponent, as the Pirates were ranked 15th to start this game. Rutgers hadn’t beaten the Hall in 4 years and had never hoisted the Garden State Hardwood Championship Trophy either. But, this game played out similarly to the Indiana game—a portend of things to come. This time, Rutgers was down ten at half time, but a raucous RAC brought them back. Corey Sanders hit some trademark fadeaway jumpers and clutch free throws. After a SHU 9-0 run, Rutgers didn’t allow Seton Hall to make a shot from the floor in the last six minutes, closing on an 18-2 run. Mike Williams, in his senior season, finally beat them. The fans rushed the court and Steve Pikiell had his first true signature win. The trophy was raised and the RAC was back.
Rutgers 76 Indiana 69 (March 1, 2018) - Dave White
Rutgers fans will remember the run. One night after beating Minnesota in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, the 14th seeded Scarlet Knights matched up against the Hoosiers at Madison Square Garden. The Gopher game was an even match-up, but Rutgers fans weren’t sure how they would do against Indiana, the 6th seed. The Hoosiers jumped out to a 17-3 lead and even made it 24-8. Then things got awesome. Rutgers went on a 21-4 run to close out the half. Corey Sanders was insane all night, notching 28 points including a thundering dunk to seal the game. This was the moment Steve Pikiell’s program started to truly grow.
Rutgers 86 Iowa 72 (March 2, 2019) - Aaron Breitman
It was the first ranked win on the road since 2008 and the first time the Scarlet Knights beat two ranked teams in a season since 2012. The fact that Iowa, ranked 22nd, ripped everyone’s hearts out at the RAC on the biggest fluke winning shot possibly ever made just weeks earlier made it all the more impressive, as well as satisfying. I also think it was a signature moment in the rebuilding of the program under Steve Pikiell and the best game performance we’ve seen from Rutgers in many years. They dominated the Hawkeyes on their senior night in their building much more so than the final score indicates. The single biggest reason I had hope that the loss of Eugene Omoruyi wouldn’t permanently cripple Rutgers this season is how they played against Iowa on the road, as they won in much more the style that Pikiell wanted long term and has them playing right now. When Rutgers becomes consistently good, this win will be remembered as a key moment to getting there.
Let us know what moments were your favorites and any games you think that we missed. Here’s to the next decade containing many postseason victories in the top ten the next time Dave and I write this.