Piscataway, N.J. — The typically media-friendly and regular interview request Geo Baker skipped out on Rutgers’ postgame news conference. He had no reason to be salty following his best game of the season that has seen him struggle in Big Ten play since breaking his left thumb at the end of December.
However, the team captain and face of the program was getting some extra treatment on his ailing back. While it likely came from the bumps and bruises that come with playing in the Big Ten, his teammate joked it was from carrying the team.
Baker had 25 points, six rebounds and five assists as Rutgers overcame an 18-point deficit and beat Northwestern 77-73 in overtime on Sunday night and improve to 16-0 at home this season.
“I think his back hurt because he carried the team tonight,” sophomore guard Caleb McConnell quipped. “He was on fire. That’s why his back was hurting for sure. He put the team on his back tonight, and give credit to Geo. I feel like Geo’s been struggling…and he finally found himself again.”
Baker had been 10-of-45 shooting since missing three games with a broken left thumb. He made 10 of 17 from the field Sunday night.
Baker hit step-back 3-pointer from the right wing to tie the game at 66-all with 1:15 left in regulation and send the game to overtime, where Rutgers (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) would take a lead for the first time. Baker had 16 of his points in the second half, and seven in overtime.
It was a highlight performance that is becoming a growing list of big plays for Baker.
“He’s the clutchest player I’ve played with,” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. said. “When Geo has the ball the last five seconds, I know the other coach is nervous.”
Northwestern (6-16, 1-11) jumped to a 10-point lead less than four minutes in. The Wildcats made it 21-7 following a second-chance layup by Pete Nance with 10:52 left in the first half and the lead would balloon to 18 points a couple of minutes later on back-to-back Miller Kopp 3-pointers, assisted by Robbie Beran, forcing Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell to take a timeout with 8:08 left. From there, Rutgers chipped away at the lead, cutting it to 38-27 at the half.
Northwestern would lead by as many as 16 early in the second half. Rutgers wouldn’t cut it to single digits until McConnell hit a jumper from the right wing to make it 63-54 with 6:11 to go and would come storming back from there.
Boo Buie had 19 points and Kopp had 16 points for Northwestern.
Akwasi Yeboah had 13 points and Ron Harper Jr. added 10 for Rutgers. The 18-point comeback is the largest for Rutgers since they came back from 20 down at Pittsburgh to win 71-70 in 1996 to secure the first winning season at Rutgers since 2005-06.
“I was a preschooler in West Paterson dribbling a basketball,” Harper said. “Fifteen years later we’re having the first winning season in a long time, so we’re building something special here.”
Northwestern coach Chris Collins agrees.
Collins had a similar rebuilding task at Northwestern, which had never made an NCAA Tournament and hadn’t had a winning season in the Big Ten in nearly half a century before ending both dry spells in his fourth season with the team.
Rutgers is hoping to make the Big Dance for the first time since 1990-91.
“Now they’re getting a lot of confidence,” Collins said. “It’s kind of what I sensed it with us when we did our build to get to the Tournament. The difference between hoping you’re going to win and believing you’re going to win and you see that in their kids' eyes, especially at home.”
More Big Ten
(At) Wisconsin 70, Ohio State 57: Wisconsin guard Brevin Pritzl scored 19 points, shooting 5 of 6 from 3-point territory, while Trevor Anderson added eight points in a stellar effort by Wisconsin’s bench, which outscored Ohio State’s reserves 30-16.
Wisconsin (14-10, 7-6 Big Ten Conference) responded to another tough week off the court with another home win in the rough-and-tumble league to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume.
Strength and conditioning coach Erik Helland resigned Thursday after being placed on leave for allegedly using a racial epithet in front of Badgers players as he recounted a story from his days in the NBA. The school said it had no evidence Helland had directed racially insensitive language toward any player.
On Sunday, the Badgers regrouped with their fourth straight win at the Kohl Center, closing the final 4:08 of the first half with a 16-0 run to seize control with a 38-20 halftime lead.
Andre Wesson had 11 points to lead Ohio State (15-8, 5-7), which committed nine of its 14 turnovers in the first half and had trouble getting good shots in the paint.
Six-foot-9 center Kaleb Wesson, the team’s leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, spent much of the final 7 minutes of the first half on the bench with foul trouble. He finished with eight points on 2-of-11 shooting.
D’Mitrik Trice, who scored eight, sandwiched two 3s around a Pritzl trey in a span of 1:08 late in the first half to give Wisconsin a 36-20 lead.
“That was a big momentum turn,” Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said. “Our closeouts weren’t very good. But give them credit — they hit a lot of shots.”
Helland, in a statement last week to reporters, said that he apologized to players after repeating what he called a “repugnant word” in recounting the story, and that he had voiced his disapproval. Helland said that he made a mistake in a “moment of inattentiveness and for that I have the deepest regret.”
Swingman Kobe King, the team’s second-leading scorer, left the program about two weeks ago to seek a transfer. Wisconsin beat Michigan State on Feb. 1 in its first home game since King left the team.
Each of the last two home wins also followed tough road losses.
“The one thing is they’re resilient, they learn and they’re always ready for the next challenge,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said.
(At) Marquette 76, No. 19 Butler 57: Markus Howard scored 17 points and Brendan Bailey and Koby McEwen added 16 apiece to lead Marquette to victory over No. 19 Butler.
Marquette (17-6, 7-4 Big East) put the game away when McEwen hit back-to-back 3 pointers and Bailey followed with another to give the Golden Eagles a 62-45 lead with 6:09 remaining.
The victory avenged an 89-85 overtime loss at Butler on Jan. 24, Marquette’s only loss in its last seven games.
Kamar Baldwin had 23 points and Bryce Nze added 14 for Butler (18-6, 6-5), which has lost five of eight after a 15-1 start.
(At) No. 25 Houston 76, Wichita State 43: Quentin Grimes had 14 points and six rebounds, DeJon Jarreau added 12 points and seven rebounds and Houston beat Wichita State.
Marcus Sasser and Caleb Mills each scored 11 points, and Nate Hinton had 10 points and nine rebounds for Houston (19-5, 9-2 American Athletic Conference). The Cougars have won seven of eight and took over sole possession of first place in the AAC.
Dexter Dennis had 10 points and six rebounds, and Tyson Etienne and Jaime Echenique each scored seven points for Wichita State (17-6, 5-5). The Shockers have lost three straight.