NEW YORK — For every dunk, three-pointer and offensive rebound that edged the Rutgers Scarlet Knights ever closer to an unlikely quarterfinal berth in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, their supporters in the stands responded in kind, as a number of players suggested after the game that The World’s Most Famous Arena felt like playing at the RAC, Rutgers’ on-campus home facility located across the Hudson River.
After letting a 16-point lead slip to see its season come to an end, the final 30 minutes at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night felt like a torture rack to the Indiana Hoosiers.
Corey Sanders once again went off on a scoring spree, going for 28 points in leading the Scarlet Knights, the No. 14 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, to a 76-69 triumph over the sixth-seeded Hoosiers, the second consecutive upset Rutgers has pulled off in New York City.
“It was great playing at home, especially for the seniors,” said Sanders, a junior who has now combined for 51 points in the Scarlet Knights’ two wins “They get to come, the parents get to come and stuff and see them play. We had a lot of people come from different places”.
All of those people supporters ended up witnessing Sanders dazzle on the court once again with an array of one-on-one moves and step-back jumpers. He scored eight of his 10 first-half points in the first half, part of a 25-4 scoring run spanning both halves to turn a 24-8 deficit into a five-point lead early in the second half. Sanders’ momentum carried over to the second half, scoring 18 points in the final 20 minutes.
Along with the locals in the stands, the Rutgers bench also provided energy to help with the comeback. Forward DeShawn Freeman had 15 points, eight rebounds and five steals in 28 minutes off the bench, while guard Geo Baker hit for 15 points, including nailing 3-of-5 from three-point range.
“A great day today for us, and we get 40 more,” said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. “So we’re excited about that.”
Those next 40 minutes for the Scarlet Knights will come against No. 3 seed Purdue on Friday evening.
In the first game of the evening session during the second round, No. 7 Penn State defeated No. 10 Northwestern 65-57, going on a 13-3 run to end the game and erase a late deficit. Guard Tony Carr led the Nittany Lions with 25 points, including two three-pointers during the game-deciding run in the second half.
It was almost a complete mystery as to how the Michigan Wolverines ended up winning their first game in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, even their head coach had no idea how his team pulled off their sleight of hand.
Any explanations on how the Wolverines missed 14 free throws while making only three of their 19 three-point attempts yet came away with a 77-71 overtime victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament would be welcome to most Michigan fans, especially the throngs of supporters dressed in maize and blue at Madison Square Garden who saw the team blow a six-point lead in the final 71 seconds of regulation.
“I don’t know,” said Beilein in response to how the team won the game while mired in poor play and foul trouble. “We didn’t make foul shots, we didn’t execute, we had a 5-second violation. I have no idea how we won the game. I have a lot of respect for Iowa. They have great young talent. We were very fortunate to get the win.”
The play of Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Duncan Robinson might be the best explanation as to why the Wolverines managed to eke out the win, as he scored five of Michigan’s 10 points in the extra session, including a three-pointer with 2:17 remaining to give Michigan the lead for good at 72-70.
After allowing the Hawkeyes to shoot 55.2 percent in the first half and trailing by five at halftime, Michigan held Iowa to 11-for-36 shooting from the field (30.6 percent) the rest of the way, including forcing the Hawkeyes to miss eight of their nine field goal attempts in overtime.
“We just battled. We got stops, especially in the second half,” said Robinson. “[Iowa was] doing whatever they wanted in the first half. We said in the locker room at halftime we needed to make a stand and that’s what really got us started in the second half, our defense.”
Iowa, which was down eight with 7:46 remaining, fought through their tired legs after playing – and winning – last night against Illinois to force overtime, as Jordan Bohannon hit a three with 16 seconds remaining to tie the game at 67.
Slowed down by an apparent injury to his hip, Bohannon only scored 11 points and made just three of his 14 shots from the floor. Off the bench, Ryan Kriener led the Hawkeyes with 14 points, making 6-of-7 from the field.
In the first game of the day session on Thursday, No. 9 Wisconsin was able to grind out a 59-54 victory over No. 8 Maryland, advancing to take No. 1 seed Michigan State in the quarterfinals. All-Big Ten First Team selection Ethan Happ led the Badgers with 14 points, while Khalil Iverson had a key steal late in the game with Wisconsin leading by three and under 10 seconds remaining in the contest.
Kevin Huerter led the Terrapins with 20 points while his backcourt mate, Anthony Cowan Jr., had 16 points and four assists.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline and story is the photo gallery from Thursday’s action at Madison Square Garden, with all photos taken by our senior photographer, Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 37 pictures in total.