By John Fanta
The clock read 5:38, with Syracuse leading 21st-ranked Rutgers, 65-62.
The RAC was silent during a moment when it would normally be raucous. Geo Baker was sidelined during a turning point he typically thrives in.
And yet, the Scarlet Knights validated their Top-25 ranking, ending the game with a statement-making 17-4 run to take down the Orange, 79-69. It was Rutgers’ first win over Syracuse since 2003.
Ron Harper Jr. continued to show he can handle the heavier workload with Baker out (day-to-day) with an ankle injury, as the junior forward put up a game-high 26 points with seven rebounds.
“Ron was very vocal tonight,” said fifth-year head coach Steve Pikiell. “He does a lot of things for us. Now, he’s guarding some really good players. He did a great job of keeping people in front of him. Ron keeps getting better and better every day.”
In the backcourt, nobody impressed more than senior Jacob Young, who showed his clutch ability with a dagger layin with just over a minute on the clock to put the game out of reach at 77-68.
Young finished with 18 points and 10 assists. He wasn’t the only one with a double-double, as junior center Myles Johnson finished with 11 points and 12 boards.
In total, the Scarlet Knights outrebounded Syracuse 44-28. While the Orange were missing center Bourama Sidibe, who is out for weeks with a torn left meniscus, it still said a lot for Rutgers to outmuscle Syracuse to the degree in which they did.
“We showed them our toughness,” said Pikiell of the win. The Scarlet Knights head coach said the team came together with specific goals to achieve on the glass entering Tuesday’s game.
“This was a statement game for us,” said Johnson.
The Scarlet Knights did make a statement.
They showed they can close out a win, but that there are more clutch finishers than just Baker, who has already cemented his legacy with a clutch gene in Piscataway.
Of course, Pikiell would have loved Baker back in the lineup Tuesday, but for the longer haul, this is the type of win that can provide more for the big picture and give the Scarlet Knights a different dimension.
With the way the Big Ten is stacked up as the conference is 6-1 against the ACC thus far this week, being able to win in a variety of ways is imperative.
Rutgers found another way on Tuesday, and they’re 4-0 because of it.