INDIANAPOLIS — Quentin Grimes scored 22 points, Tramon Mark converted a soaring three-point play with 24 seconds left, and Houston beat Rutgers 63-60 on Sunday night to reach the Sweet 16.
DaJon Jarreau overcame a series of bumps and bruises to score a key bucket down the stretch and finished with 17 points for second-seeded Houston (26-3). The Cougars play No. 11 seed Syracuse next weekend for a spot in the Midwest Region finals.
The 10th-seeded Scarlet Knights (16-12) still had a chance after Mark’s free throws, but Geo Baker turned the ball over and Marcus Sasser made two more to extend the lead. Rutgers rushed back up the floor and Ron Harper Jr. let fly a potential tying 3 from the wing that clanked off the side of the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
Baker finished with 14 points for Rutgers but was holding back tears following his late turnover. Montez Mathis also had 10 points for the Scarlet Knights, who failed to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1976.
The difference in the program pedigrees was evident by the very way they hit the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Cougars had the swagger of a school that knew it belonged: five trips to the Final Four, the halcyon days of Guy V. Lewis and rebirth under Kelvin Sampson, and the Phi Slama Jama teams of the Dream, the Glide and the Silent Assassin.
The Scarlet Knights bounced out moments later as if riding pogo sticks, boundless joy and energy borne of the fact that they had already done something Rutgers hadn’t accomplished in 38 years: win a single NCAA tourney game.
Their showdown for the Sweet 16 was physical enough it made sense to play it in a football stadium.
Caleb McConnel hit the deck a half-dozen times for Rutgers. Houston big man Reggie Chaney was ready to throw down with anybody wearing red. By the time the first half ended, and the Scarlet Knights had forged a 30-27 lead, Rutgers and Houston each had two regulars mired in foul trouble.
Chaney took a seat with his fourth with 15:45 left and the Scarlet Knights went on the attack. Paul Mulcahy and Jacob Young rattled in 3-pointers. Baker hit a jumper and a 3 of his own. And by the time there was 10 minutes to go, the Scarlet Knights had meticulously built a 50-40 lead.
Even worse for the Cougars? The sight of Jarreau, the body blows having taken their toll, clutching his hip as he headed to the bench. Trainers spent several minutes working on the do-everything guard before he returned to the game.
Good thing he made it back to the floor.
The Cougars were slowly chipping away at their deficit when Jarreau hit a 3-pointer to get them within 58-53 with just over 4 minutes left. Grimes added a 3-pointer of his own a couple minutes later, and both of them hit free throws, before Mark’s soaring three-point play gave Houston the lead and set up the frantic finish.
Rutgers did everything right until the final 10 minutes, when the magnitude of the moment appeared to catch up with a team that hadn’t been in such a high-profile situation in decades.
Houston has won nine straight since losing to Wichita State on Feb. 18, and now heads back to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive tournament. The Cougars also gave Sampson his 665th win, moving him past John Wooden on the career list.
The Cougars play the Orange next weekend for a spot in the Elite Eight. They lost their only meeting with Syracuse on Dec. 11, 1982.