Possession after possession. Big shot after big shot. Neither team wanted to let this one get away but in the end, Notre Dame made just one more play.
Ron Harper Jr. nailed a long three to tie the game at 87 with 22 seconds left. The Scarlet Knights did not have an answer for Paul Atkinson all night. The Irish big man grabbed an offensive rebound and covered a putback to give Notre Dame an 89-87 victory at the UD Arena in Dayton. Atkinson scored a game-high 26 points on 13-of-16 shooting.
Rutgers ends its season 18-14 after two consecutive postseason losses. Last season, the offense went cold against Houston in the Round of 32 and this time around, the Scarlet Knights are burned defensively in the final seconds.
This game went back-and-forth in the first half. Both sides got comfortable early on offensively, which was not expected to be the trend of the night. The Scarlet Knights led by five heading into the break after hometown kid Caleb McConnell put on a show over the first 20 minutes.
In the first half it was McConnell, Geo Baker in the second half, Paul Mulcahy in overtime, and Harper Jr. all throughout.
Notre Dame took a lead late in the second half but Baker would score nine consecutive points to setup a potential game-winning shot. With the game tied at 69, Baker attempted his step back shot but it was no good. In overtime, it was more back-and-forth as there was five lead changes in five minutes.
The Scarlet Knights held a one-point lead with 26 seconds left in overtime until Mulcahy threw a high inbounds pass that Harper Jr. could not handle. The Irish would convert inside to regain the lead. Mulcahy would make up for the pass with a three to put Rutgers up two with 11 seconds. Notre Dame would once again be up for the task as Blake Wesley got a layup to go.
In double overtime, the Scarlet Knights needed one final stop but could not secure the rebound late. Notre Dame dominated inside all night and this was the difference in the game.
McConnell led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds for Rutgers while Harper Jr. finished with 22. Cliff Omoruyi added 15 points of his own while Baker totaled 19 points, sis rebounds and five assists.
The Scarlet Knights had a chance to be a dangerous team coming out of Dayton if they were able to pull this one off. Baker, Harper Jr., and McConnell likely have just played their final game with the Scarlet Knights and one thing is for sure — this is the best class in Rutgers’ basketball history since the 1976 Final Four team. This is a group that will be remembered for turning the program around and getting Rutgers back to the NCAA Tournament.