The handshake line at the end of the Scarlet Knights’ 75-67 victory over the Wolverines was interrupted by a scuffle, with multiple teammates and a staffer needing to hold back Michigan’s Moussa Diabate. The five-star freshman center was jawing at Rutgers players as he was dragged back to the visiting locker room.
It is unclear what caused the confusion.
Both Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell and forward Ron Harper Jr., one of the stars of the night who finished with 20 points, intimated that “words were said” but pinned the situation on two competitive basketball teams butting heads.
“It’s just basketball. Nobody is ever going to fight out there,” Harper told NJ Advance Media. “It’s like the WWE. It’s all fake, phony. Nobody is going to put their hands on each other out there. It’s a real rare situation when somebody does. It was two competitive teams fighting out there, competing for 40 minutes and that happens. It happens sometimes. It gets competitive, it gets heated and it gets emotional. That’s what makes a great basketball game, competitiveness and emotions. That’s just a product of that.”
After the dust was settled, Pikiell talked briefly with a Michigan staffer as he walked towards the Wolverines’ locker room.
“That’s what happens in a competitive game like that,” Pikiell said. “I guess some words were said but I don’t know. I’ll watch the tape and figure it out. That happens. These are tough games against good teams and competitive teams. They’re real competitive and we are. … (the staffer and I) were just talking about two competitive teams playing hard,” Pikiell said. “That stuff happens.”
Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard, who was talking to Rutgers guard Geo Baker when the fight broke out and who went over to Scarlet Knights players to shake their hands after it ended, told reporters in his postgame press conference that he did not see what happened.
“I’m not being (a jerk) when I say this, but I don’t have eyes behind my back,” he said. “I was shaking hands with coaches and players and then I turned around and just saw that there was some commotion behind me.”
The brouhaha put a stain at the end of a historic victory for Rutgers, who defeated Michigan for the first time in its history. The Scarlet Knights led the depleted Wolverines, who only had four key reserves missing, from wire-to-wire.
The contest was chippy, with 33 fouls between both sides. Michigan played tough through the final buzzer, scoring 8 points in the final minute of the contest and fouling Baker with eight seconds remaining as the Scarlet Knights led by an insurmountable 7 points. On one of those baskets, Michigan center Hunter Dickinson set a hard screen on Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell.
Harper denied that the hard screen or the overzealous finish from the Wolverines played a part in the mess, saying Dickinson’s screen was legal and it was up to him and his teammates to call it out.
He added that the scuffle does not change how the Scarlet Knights view the Wolverines.
“At the end of the day, we respect them as a team,” Harper said. “They’ve got great players, a great coaching staff, we don’t have anything negative to say about them. It’s just basketball.”
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Brian Fonseca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.