PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — The biggest upset in Rutgers’ history had coach Eddie Jordan in tears.
For a couple of seconds after a stunning 67-62 win over No. 4 Wisconsin on Sunday, Jordan felt the emotions of all the losses over the past two seasons, hearing the many boos and naysayers.
Then, he felt a sense of joy and accomplishment.
One win fueled by big games from seniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack isn’t going to turn around the Scarlet Knights’ basketball program. It is a step forward for the state university of New Jersey, and it felt real good.
Even Gov. Chris Christie, who went to Wisconsin to see his beloved Dallas Cowboys face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC semifinal, would have to admit he went to the wrong game Sunday.
“It’s a great win for the program,” said Jordan, a member of the Scarlet Knights Final Four team in 1976. “Our crowd was here to witness it. Hopefully it leaves a taste in their mouth and they want more.”
Mack had 19 of his 21 points in the second half and Jack added 20 points for the Scarlet Knights (10-7, 2-2 Big Ten), whose previous biggest upset was a win over No. 6 West Virginia in 1982.
“I have seen what he (Jordan) had been through,” Mack said of Jordan who took over the team after Mike Rice was fired in 2013 for verbally and physically abusing his players. “This win, he proved them wrong. They can see he actually can. I believe in coach.”
A couple of dozen fans ran on the court after the final buzzer but the crowd of 6,887 was remarkably well restrained after the contest ended, possibly wondering how a team that lost to St. Peter’s and St. Francis, Pennsylvania, earlier this season, knocked off a team that went to the Final Four last year.
“We’re playing defense now,” Jack said.
Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes had 15 points apiece for Wisconsin (15-2, 3-1). The Badgers did not have leading scorer Frank Kaminsky for the game because of a concussion, and they lost guard Traevon Jackson early in the second half with a leg injury.
“Oh yeah, we let this one slip away,” Dekker said. “We didn’t play well down the stretch, we didn’t have a good second half whatsoever, but we’ve got to bounce back. Good teams are the ones that can put losses behind them, learn from them and get better.”
Rutgers, which trailed by 12 entering the second half, shot almost 67 percent from the field after the break.
The Scarlet Knights, the worst shooting team in the Big Ten, hit 5 of 7 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes and finished the game shooting 54 percent against the league’s top-ranked defensive team.
“This shows we can play with a Top 10 team, a Top 5 team,” Jack said. “I think we played Virginia really well at the beginning of the year with defense, and we came back and showed them with this one today.”
Despite missing key players, Wisconsin held the lead until Mack hit two free throws for a 54-53 lead with 7:19 to play. A dunk by Malick Kone pushed the margin to 56-53 with 5:15 to go and two more free throws by Mack and a drive by Jack extended the lead to 60-53 with 3:13 to play.
Wisconsin made a final run. Two free throws by Zak Showalter and a drive and a 3-pointer by Hayes got the Badgers within 62-60 with 1:04 to go.
However, Mack drove the lane for a layup with 30.4 seconds left to build the lead to 64-60 and Jack made two free throws with 23.3 seconds left after Bronson Koenig (12 points) cut the lead to 64-62 with a jumper.
Wisconsin was 5 of 21 from 3-point range, with Dekker and Gassser a combined 0 for 9. This was the Badgers first loss in the conference and their first loss on the road this season.
Wisconsin: Kaminsky’s absence marked the first time in 77 games that a Badgers’ starter missed a game because of an injury. The last time was against Milwaukee on Dec. 22, 2012.
Rutgers: Jack woke up Rutgers crowd early in the second half with a monster dunk. He made the mistake of hanging on the rim on the play and was called for a technical, setting up two free throws by Josh Gasser and a basket by Dekker.
Wisconsin: hosts Nebraska on Tuesday.
Rutgers: visits No. 11 Maryland on Wednesday.
COURT RUSHING: Jordan joked about the timid rushing of the court after the upset. “One thing we have to work on is how we rush the court when we have a big win like that,” he said.
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