NEW YORK -- For the first time since joining the Big Ten, Rutgers looks as if it belongs.
Corey Sanders scored 28 points and last-place Rutgers upset Indiana 76-69 Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The 14th-seeded Scarlet Knights (15-18) face third seed and No. 8 Purdue at Madison Square Garden in the final game of Friday's quadruple-header.
"It was great playing at home, especially for the seniors," Sanders said.
A lot of people laugh at the thought of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, being New York's Big Ten team but it has certainly felt that way the last two nights at the Garden.
The Hoosiers (16-15) started the game on a 17-3 run, but were manhandled for the most part by Rutgers over the final 30 minutes.
"We just showed everybody that it's not the same Rutgers that's going to keel over and die," said Mike Williams, a senior from Brooklyn. "This is March Madness, man."
Rutgers led by seven with 10 minutes left in the second half, but the Hoosiers had it tied less than two minutes later. Indiana never could get the lead back. Back-to-back buckets by Sanders had Rutgers up by three and Geo Baker's 3 from the left wing made it 56-50 for the Scarlet Knights with 5:12 left.
A runner off the glass by Sanders put Rutgers up six with 1:23 left and 15 seconds later his breakaway slam made it 67-59 and brought down chants of "Let's Go Rutgers!" and "R-U!" from the partisan crowd. One more slam by Sanders, this time on a baseline drive that had just a touch of former Knicks star John Starks in it, capped Rutgers biggest basketball victory in decades.
Sanders had 23 points in a victory against Minnesota on Wednesday night.
"I think he has something to prove here," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said.
Rutgers has won two games in a single conference tournament for the first time since 1998 in the Big East. The last time Rutgers won three conference tournament games was 1989 in the Atlantic 10.
The Hoosiers raced out to a 24-8 lead, getting to the basket with ease. With 7:28 left in the first half, Rutgers had more turnovers (five) than field goals (three) and Sanders was 0 for 4.
"I think we were shooting 11 percent at the time and I looked up and they were shooting like 54 percent at that time," Sanders said. "We weren't getting enough stops and our defense had to kick in so our offense could get going."
Sanders led the Rutgers rally at the end of the first half, scoring 10 points, including a right-handed slam off a steal. The Scarlet Knights closed with a 17-2 run and led 29-28 at halftime.
"I think it just comes down to us not getting enough stops," said Juwan Morgan, who led Indiana with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were invited to join the Big Ten five years ago, much to the surprise of most college sports fans who wondered what value a program with little football and basketball success over the last four decades would bring to a tradition-rich conference based in the Midwest.
Sure, Rutgers was in the New York media market, but did the Scarlet Knights really move the needle in a city dominated by pro sports?
Rutgers proceeded to live down to the expectations in four seasons in the Big Ten, bottoming out in both football and basketball and dealing with embarrassing scandals.
Now, with the Big Ten basketball tournament being played in New York for the first time -- about 35 miles away from Rutgers' campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey -- the Scarlet Knights have themselves a true B1G moment.
Indiana: Coach Archie Miller's first season in Bloomington figured to be rocky, but losing to Rutgers and missing a chance to play Purdue in the Big Ten tournament for just the second time stings.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost twice to Purdue in the regular season, getting blown out in West Lafayette, Indiana, but losing at home by only two.
Indiana: The Hoosiers lost to just about every good team they played this season, but could still squeeze into the NIT.
"I would be surprised if there's postseason on the horizon for us, even with a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten, I would be surprised," Miller said.
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