When the RAC emptied and the postgame celebration of Rutgers’ 62-59 win over Illinois ended, C.J. Gettys walked over to the student section and individually shook the hands of every Rutgers Riot Squad member.
From the cardboard cutouts of his face in those bleachers and the chants of his name, win or lose, Gettys paid homage to one of the reasons why he said his lone season at Rutgers was well spent.
“They mean the world,” Gettys said of the student section. “Like I said, this wouldn’t be home-court advantage — it wouldn’t be a home game — without them. They bring the energy cheering us on, cheering our name, coming up with little different sayings.
“(Illinois) missed some big free throws down the stretch of the second half because the Riot Squad was out there causing some havoc and got them to miss. … I couldn’t thank them enough.”
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell remarked over the graduate transfer’s quick rise to popularity after Gettys pitched in eight points and nine rebounds for the Scarlet Knights (14-17, 3-15) in their regular-season finale.
“C.J.’s become a little bit of a cult hero,” Pikiell said. “They wanted him to come out (after the game).”
As the dust begins to settle on Gettys’ college career and his one-year tenure as a Scarlet Knight, he cherishes every last minute of basketball he has in a Rutgers uniform.
When Gettys looks back on his decision to come to Rutgers for his final year of eligibility, he has zero regrets — even if he spent it in the first year of a major rebuild.
“Rebuilding, you can’t expect to win every game,” Gettys said. “But with that, you can expect us to go out and play hard every night, try to win. Last year, as you guys know, they were getting beat by 30, 40 points a game conference play.
“There was one stat earlier this year that Purdue had out-rebounded them by 40 here at the RAC. You don’t see that now. We fight till the last second, till the buzzer goes off. Like I said, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. They’ve come a long way.”
As a co-captain and experienced upperclassman, junior guard Mike Williams knows about leadership.
Gettys pushed his teammates to be better and created a winning culture, Williams said.
“For somebody that big, he’s one of the most energetic guys I’ve ever met,” Williams said. “He’s a vocal leader. He’s won everywhere he went. He has that winning attitude and he knows how to win, so we needed pieces like that and I’m going to miss him.”
With the Big Ten Tournament up next, the single-game elimination format means Rutgers’ opening-round matchup could very well be the last for Gettys.
But for now, Rutgers gave him the senior sendoff he wanted — with a win.
“It’s amazing,” Gettys said. “These guys have worked incredibly hard all year to not give up and to just keep fighting from where they were last year just shows the turnaround this program has made under (Pikiell) and the staff. It’s a great feeling to go down to D.C. with some momentum, and let’s try to make a run.”