PISCATAWAY, NJ — Geo Baker had struggled for nearly a month after breaking his thumb. That seemed to end Saturday with two 3-pointers in just over two minutes.
Baker hit a 3 with 1.2 seconds left to send No. 24 Rutgers past Nebraska 75-72 to raise the Scarlet Knights’ home record to 14-0.
Two B1G games today.
Two buzzer-beating game-winners.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 25, 2020
After missing a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining, Baker got the ball after a rebound from Akwaski Yeboah, and Rutgers’ unquestioned leader waved off his teammates before drilling the final shot on a step-back jumper.
“It definitely helped my confidence to see the ball go through the hoop, especially like that,” Baker said. “So I’m feeling really good right now.”
So is his thumb.
Baker ditched the splint he’d been wearing since the break, saying his thumb was feeling a lot better. Entering in the game, Baker was 4-of-18 shooting in three games since returning from injury after missing three games, and started this game 0 of 6 before going 2 of 3 to end the game.
Rutgers (15-5, 6-3 Big Ten) was up 14 early in the second half before Nebraska (7-13, 2-7) went on a 22-7 run over seven minutes to lead 63-62 on two foul shots by Charlie Easely with 7:49 to go. Nebraska went ahead by six with just over three minutes left before Baker and Yeboah hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to tie it at 72 with 1:59 to go.
“He’s a big-time player,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said of Baker. “Give him credit for stepping up and knocking down the biggest shots of the game.”
Rutgers had four double-digit scorers, with Yeboah leading the way with 20 points. Caleb McConnell and Jacob Young each had 12 and Montez Mathis 10.
Nebraska, down 38-33 at the half, was led by Cam Mack with 19 points while Thorir Thorbjarnarson had 17 points and eight rebounds. Myles Johnson had nine points on 5-of-5 shooting with 11 rebounds and five blocks for Rutgers.
While it wasn’t pretty, Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell was pleased his team was able to grind out a win.
“Our defense wasn’t great, but it was great when it needed to be, and our offense, too, so I’m happy for that,” Pikiell said. “It’s how you have to win games sometimes — you have to grind them out. And I’m an old-fashioned grinder and I appreciate those kinds of games where you’re not at your best and you still find a way to win.”
After receiving an AP Top 25 ranking for the first time since 1979, Rutgers went 1-1 with a close loss at No. 19 Iowa. That should be good enough to keep Rutgers right about where it is.
Rutgers has beaten Nebraska twice, its first time going 2-0 against a Big Ten opponent since joining the conference in 2014.
“Those are big things. There’s a lot of good teams in this league,” Pikiell said. “They say you need to climb the ladder one step at a time and that’s something that we needed to do.”
Rutgers: Now comes the hard part. 10 of the Scarlet Knights’ final 12 games are against teams ranked or receiving votes in the AP Top 25.
Nebraska: A tough season continues. Falling well below .500 overall and in league play, the Cornhuskers are trying to stay out of the Big Ten basement.
Rutgers: Hosts Purdue on Tuesday.
Nebraska: Hosts Michigan on Tuesday.