Rutgers stunned No. 1 Purdue 65-64 on the road Monday to hand the Boilermakers' their first loss for a second straight season. The Scarlet Knights have now won five of their last six games against Purdue after also knocking off the Boilermakers last season after they ascended to No. 1 for the first time in program history.
Last season, Ron Harper Jr. was the hero for hitting a buzzer-beater from just inside of half court at the buzzer. This season, the hero was Cam Spencer, who drilled a 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds remaining to put Rutgers ahead 65-64. The senior guard, who transferred from Loyola-Maryland, finished with 14 points. Paul Mulcahy added 16 to pace the Scarlet Knights.
Purdue received 60 of 61 possible first-place votes in the new AP Top 25 poll on Monday but will need a win at Ohio State on Thursday to maintain any hope of sticking atop the poll after struggling offensively against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights led 34-24 at halftime and held on late to leave New Mexico as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.
The win marked Rutgers' first true road victory of the season and improved the Scarlet Knights to 10-4 (2-1 Big Ten). While the Boilermakers clearly muddied the fight for No. 1 with the loss, it shouldn't be too catastrophic of a blemish on their resume. Rutgers entered at No. 20 in the NET, meaning it will go down as a Quad 1 loss for Purdue.
Defense sets tone
Rutgers entered the game ranked No. 3 at KenPom.com in defensive efficiency, and the Scarlet Knights turned in another excellent defensive performance. The Boilermakers shot just 24% from the field in the first half as star center Zach Edey made only 1 of 3 shots from the field. Edey was also limited in the first half by two fouls. Though he eventually got going to lead all scorers with 19 points, Edey's early struggles against Rutgers' defense set the tone for the game.
Rutgers is here to stay
Back in the 2019-20 season, the Scarlet Knights were a feel-good story. Rutgers finished 20-11 that season and likely would have made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991 if not for the event's cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After making the Big Dance in the past two seasons since then, this Rutgers team appears to be on its way back once again. In his seventh season as coach, Steve Pikiell has turned Rutgers into a legitimate force in Big Ten basketball. The Scarlet Knights aren't a heartwarming underdog. They are a physical and veteran-laden squad capable of making noise on the national stage.
Cam Spencer 😱 pic.twitter.com/mTPTwSebmw— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 3, 2023
In addition to his 16 points, Mulcahy finished with eight rebounds and six assists. Most of his production came in the second half as Purdue staged its rally. The 6-foot-7 senior has always been a pass-first guard throughout his career but came up with timely buckets for Rutgers as seven of his points came in the final four minutes.