PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Ron Harper Jr. crossed half-court and took one more dribble before taking one last shot.
The ball floated toward the basket. Rutgers trailed by one point to Purdue, the No. 1 team in the nation.
The crowd, so raucous all night long, could only watch and hope.
Then it erupted.
The ball swished through the net for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the Scarlet Knights to a momentous, upset victory at Jersey Mike’s Arena, the biggest regular-season victory in the program’s history, stunning the college basketball world in the process.
The crowd stormed the court, turning the floor into a sea of red.
“That’s like a dream,” Harper said. “Honestly if I woke up and I was in my bed after that, I wouldn’t have been surprised. That was crazy.”
The Boilermakers had won their first eight games of the season – a winning streak they watched end in shocking fashion.
It was Rutgers’ first victory over a top-ranked team, and it was the Scarlet Knights’ highest-ranked win since beating No. 2 UCLA back in 1981.
“History was made tonight,” coach Steve Pikiell said.
Harper was stellar, finishing with 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting (5-of-7 from 3-point range) to go along with 10 rebounds.
This was the best the Scarlet Knights have played so far this season, using every ounce of grit they had to fight off one of the best teams in the country.
“Once Ron shot the ball, it was like a dream,” Mawot Mag said. “I just stopped and stared at the ball.”
Rutgers dealt with a flu outbreak during the week – seven players came down with it – but overcame all of that.
“We played a fantastic Purdue team,” Pikiell said. “I’m proud of these guys.”
The second half was a fight down to the final second.
The Boilermakers, which just earned the No. 1 ranking in the Ferris Mowers Men’s Basketball Coaches Poll for the first time ever earlier this week, took a 47-44 lead with just less than 14 minutes remaining after Jaden Ivey drained a three from the right corner.
Purdue extended its lead with an 11-0 run, which Harper snapped with a second-chance basket.
Rutgers, which was blown out by Illinois in its previous game kept clawing.
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With Purdue up by six, Ralph Gonzales-Agee made a layup and drew the foul but missed the free throw. Harper collected the rebound and was fouled as he tried to put it back.
He made both foul shots to again make it a four-point game.
Caleb McConnell later collected a rebound after a Purdue miss. On the other end, Harper dribbled into the paint when three defenders collapsed on him.
Harper sent a bounce pass to Mag, who dunked it to make it 66-65 Purdue with 56.5 seconds left.
Rutgers turned the ball over with 23.1 seconds left when Harper passed and it went out of bounds before Purdue traveled and turned it over three seconds later.
Harper had a turnaround jumper in the lane before Trevion Williams, who had 21 points, made a layup to put Purdue up one.
That appeared to seal it for Purdue.
Harper had other ideas.
“To get the first program win against the No. 1 team in the country, it was truly something special,” Harper said. “When that ball went in, I was jumping like a little kid on Christmas. It was just crazy.”
Stellar first half
Rutgers played about as well as possible before the break while Purdue struggled to knock down shots.
The Scarlet Knights went into halftime with a 36-35 lead after shooting 52.2% from the field and made six of their 10 attempts from 3-point range.
Harper was outstanding, racking up 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-5 from the perimeter, to go along with five rebounds.
With 3:14 left in the half, Harper drained a long 3-pointer from the right wing and was fouled. He drained the foul shot to convert the four-point play to put Rutgers up 33-26.
The Boilermakers, meanwhile, couldn’t make shots — they shot 39.4% from the field, and just 2-of-11 from long distance.
Purdue’s bigs, however, gave Rutgers problems, especially when Cliff Omoruyi had to go to the bench with foul trouble.
Williams had 14 points in the first half, while Zach Edey had nine.
Gonzales-Agee had trouble containing them early, and Pikiell later tried Dean Reiber and even Luke Nathan but Purdue’s frontcourt was tough to stop.
Cliff Omoruyi’s toughness
With 6:37 remaining, Omoruyi got tangled up with Edey underneath the basket as they fought for a rebound.
Edey appeared to hit Omoruyi’s neck, which sent Rutgers’ second-year center to the court in pain while the crowd erupted in boos.
The officials went to the monitor, but elected not to call a foul on Edey — instead Rutgers got called for a foul.
Omoruyi needed help getting back to the locker room. But he soon came back onto the bench and checked into the game to deafening cheers.
It’s not much of a surprise by this point, but the atmosphere inside Jersey Mike’s Arena was electric.
The packed crowd made it plenty unwelcoming for Purdue, which before Thursday had played just two games away from Mackey Arena, and they were on a neutral court in Connecticut as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic (the Boilermakers beat North Carolina and Villanova).
Jersey Mike’s Arena isn’t an easy place to play — especially for a team that hasn’t played in a true road environment since the end of the 2019-20 season.
“When we go on the road in this league, it’s tough,” Pikiell said. “It’s a tough league to go on the road. We’ve made Jersey Mike’s (Arena) now a place that’s tough for people to come in and play.”
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