PISCATAWAY — The ball goes through the basket on the other end. Rutgers quickly inbounds to Ron Harper Jr. with 3.4 seconds left.
“I took a glance at the clock,” Harper Jr. said. “I got two dribbles down, got downhill and saw like 2.1 seconds I think it was. I was like I got two more dribbles in me. It was a shot I was comfortable taking.”
He approached half court with two defenders nearby and he was able to make a move to get a clear look at the basket.
“It was kind of like a euro step shot,” Harper Jr. said. “A million things were going through my mind. I had to get a good look up. They kind of stopped playing for a second because I don’t think they wanted to foul me.”
The shot floats toward the basket and goes in to give Rutgers a buzzer-beating victory over No. 1 Purdue — the first win over the top-ranked team in the nation in program history.
“It was like a dream. If I woke up and I was in my bed after that, I wouldn't be surprised,” Harper Jr. said.
“It was crazy. To have a night like that, with these guys, we had a rough start to the season and to get the first program win against a number one team. It’s truly something special. When that ball went in, I was jumping like a little kid on Christmas.”
This is a Rutgers’ team that has three losses on the season by three points or less and were on their way to a fourth. The last time Rutgers stepped on the court, it was in Champaign where they lost by 35 to the Illini.
The schedule did not get easier for the Scarlet Knights returning home to take on the No. 1 team in the nation. Heading into the game, the mindset for the team had to change.
“In pregame, I kept it short,” Harper Jr. said. “I asked if anyone had anything to say and we said less talk. Let’s go do it.”
Rutgers was dealing with issues with the flu throughout the week. Geo Baker remains out after practicing this week for the first time since suffering an injury but came down with the flu on Thursday. It is safe to say that the Scarlet Knights were not at full strength in this one. Until they get everyone back on the floor, Rutgers continues to have everyone step up and make contributions.
“I think this is a great team,” Harper Jr. said. “With Geo out, coach Pikiell has been preaching to use the next man up, next man mentality. That’s something these guys have embraced. Coach asked Mawot to start his first game against the No. 1 team in the country and he responded great. That just goes with the next man mentality.”
The Scarlet Knights will visit No. 23 Seton Hall, who beat No. 7 Texas on Thursday, this Sunday in another high-powered, emotional matchup. This begins a stretch of four consecutive non-conference games before their next Big Ten matchup against Michigan on Jan. 4.
Rutgers has just three days to prepare for this game against an in-state rival but this game will not leave the memories of Rutgers’ fans, the program, and of course Harper Jr., for quite sometime.
“It felt great. I told Mawot, if they score give me the ball. Let’s go home. We got a great win. We’re never too high, never too low. Now we got Seton Hall on Sunday.”