Three days after an upset over No. 4 Wisconsin – the first top-five victory in program history – Rutgers almost did it again with a second-half lead on the road.
“We have a confidence to play with the best teams in the league, best teams in the country and we’ve got to keep proving it,” Jordan said. “… I think we understand, if we do things right for most part of the game, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Rutgers (10-8, 2-3) received a unanimous last-place projection in pre-season Big Ten voting from the media, and responded with a strong start in conference play.
“Everybody’s sleeping on us at the start of things,” said freshman guard Mike Williams. “Now we upset Wisconsin and came down to Maryland and almost beat them and they’re the big dogs of the Big Ten now. I think everybody’s taken notice.”
Maryland gutted it out Wednesday night with a superior finish from the Xfinity Center. The 16-2 Terps, however, struggled for most of the second half against the Scarlet Knights’ offense.
Rutgers faced a seven-point halftime deficit and roared out of the locker room on an 18-5 run that stunned the more than 12,000 fans in attendance. This came on the heels of other strong road performances at Clemson, at Madison Square Garden and at the Barclays Center.
“Everything [went right],” senior Myles Mack said on the second-half run. “We were playing together, made shots, played great defense and got out and made baskets. … We’ve been playing a lot better basketball. We’re getting better, and that’s just the hard work we’ve been putting in.”
Better may be an understatement after early losses to St. Peter’s and St. Francis (Pa.), but confidence is on a rise for the Big Ten newcomers.
“We just came off a big win against Wisconsin, and then we come here and I felt we were going to win this game down the stretch,” Williams said. “But we just started missing free throws, and they were capitalizing on that. It hurts. This loss hurts.“... We were down against Wisconsin by 12 in the first half, and came back and won the game. We told ourselves we were going to do the same thing here and just came out on fire. I felt like we were going to win the game.”
Can the Scarlet Knights keep it going?