Sports Journalism Blog

By Caleb Lynn | @CalebLynn1

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — Geo Baker’s layup with 10.8 seconds to play gave Rutgers a 60-56 victory over Clemson at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the first NCAA tournament victory for the Scarlet Knights since 1983. Rutgers (16-11) will meet Houston in the second round. The Scarlet Knights, who are making their first appearance since 1991, had not advanced since beating Southwest Louisiana in 1983.

Baker, whose 13 points tied for a team-high total, was trying to make a pass into Ron Harper Jr. Clemson’s Aamir Simms then deflected it. Yet somehow, some way, Baker found the ball off the deflection and drove in for two points to seal the deal.

“I definitely tried to be a little too flashy,” Baker said. “I tried to throw a no-look pass to Ron (Harper Jr.), I thought (Amir) Simms was going to bite a little bit because there was a man on the other side…. But he read it, he tipped it, and I just stayed with the play and just got a lay-up. Right place right time.”

A little over a year ago, in the same building, the Scarlet Knights were warming up for their first game in the Big Ten tournament when suddenly, the tournament was canceled. After remembering that, Rutgers wanted to make a statement. This was a win that brought smiles to the program for the players, coaches, and even the loud, raucous fans of the Scarlet Knights who chanted Baker’s name after the game.

“Super special, I know they have been waiting a long time,” Baker said. “..Knowing that they are supporting us makes it so much better.”

Clemson (16-8) was led by Simms, who scored 15 points but was limited to 5-of-14 shooting. Clyde Trapp scored 14 points for the Tigers.

Baker said his team’s mentality is to never give up, and to always stick with the play. Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell, when asked about Baker and his late-game heroics, talked about how Baker has done this his whole career.

“Even his freshman year on, he’s made big plays for us, big baskets,” Pikiell said. “He is very confident, we are confident in him, too.”

Rutgers had four double-figure scorers. When that happens, the Rutgers are 8-2 this season including this win. Caleb McConnell scored 13 points with 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. For Pikiell, McConnell’s play was instrumental.

“He came in and had great energy off the bat,” Pikiell said. “I mean to get 13 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, too, a steal….Very involved.”

For Clemson’s head coach, Evansville, Indiana’s own Brad Brownell, he and his Tigers could not pull off the win. Even with Trapp, who scored 12 points in the second half, the Tigers came up a little too short. Their season finished out with a 16-8 record, and Brownell is looking to keep the Clemson basketball program rising. When asked about the game and the season overall, Brownell gave credit to Rutgers and for how this game felt like gritty March basketball.

“I thought this was tournament basketball,” Brownell said. “Their kids played extremely hard. I thought our guys did as well. Both teams very physical and aggressive defensively…Give the Rutgers kids credit. They got a couple more easy baskets than we did in the game, and that was the difference.”