On Wednesday night, Rutgers men’s basketball completed an improbable comeback to knock off No. 16 Ohio State 66-64 behind a 10-0 run in the final 3:48 of the game. There were many big plays, including Geo Baker’s clutch drive with the game on the line to draw the foul and knock down the pair of free throws. He scored 8 of the final 10 points and finished with a game high 25 points. Baker was sensational. However, it was Caleb McConnell’s block after coming out of seemingly nowhere that is ultimately the play that will be most remembered in this victory.
The Buckeyes still led 64-60 with 2:33 to play when they threw the deep pass from their own baseline coming out of a timeout to find Malaki Branham wide open just past midcourt. The freshman had 19 points in the game and was a problem for the Scarlet Knights all night. He caught the pass cleanly and looked to have a clear path to the basket in what would have been a devastating play for Rutgers to allow in that situation. That was until McConnell made up incredible ground and delivered as memorable a block as I can remember for this program. It was a Lebron James level type of defensive play.
Simply put, it changed the game. Without McConnell’s miraculous play, the eventual 10-0 run is erased and Rutgers would have trailed by six points with just over two minutes to play. Instead, Geo Baker hit a step back jumper to cut the lead to 64-62 at the two minute mark. It was a four point swing that swung the game in Rutgers’ favor. The play also sent the RAC faithful into a frenzy the rest of the way that helped propel this team to victory.
McConnell made the heroic play with four fouls and put himself on the line physically as well to make the game saving block. He scored just 4 points, but had 4 rebounds, 4 steals and the all-important blocked shot. It was his second consecutive game with 4 steals and McConnell is doing everything possible to boost his candidacy for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year or worst case the All-Big Ten Defensive Team.
Here is the legendary play by McConnell that might just go down as the highlight of his Rutgers career at least so far.
Here is another angle that shows the authority in which McConnell blocked the ball but also that the play was clearly a clean stop.
Watching the play several times, it jumps out as symbolic of this season for Rutgers men’s basketball. They’ve been down and out more times than I can count. Written off, lost and bewildered. It was their own fault and the play started with a blown coverage. A mistake. And yet, just like this team over the past month, McConnell fought back in the play and came through in the end. Rutgers won a game in astounding fashion in the midst of a brutal stretch of the season that they’re turning into opportunity.
Just as Rutgers was being read its last rites on the game in what really was a must win to maintain hope for a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament, McConnell, like the team, came back from the dead to save the day.
The Scarlet Knights are now 14-9 overall and 8-5 in Big Ten play. They have a 4-3 record against Quad 1 opponents and have won back to back games against ranked foes for the first time since 2008. They have three more ranked teams and six more Quad 1 opponents in a row left on the schedule. Count them out at your own risk. As this team proved once again highlighted by the block from the rafters by Caleb McConnell, Rutgers is very much alive as the calendar turns to mid-February.