In the end, it was just not to be for Rutgers Scarlet Knights in this year's NCAAB tournament. The college basketball team was beaten by Notre Dame in the First Four 89-87 in an all-time classic. It was a game that featured no less than two overtimes, and the hard-working Rutgers could have scored a victory had luck gone their way.
Some people will claim that Rutgers choked on what could have been a massive win, but the team found it hard to contain quality Notre Dame players like Paul Atkinson Jr who managed to clock up an impressive 26 points. Not that Rutgers were outclassed on the scoring front as Ron Harper Jr and Caleb McConnell both had double-digit games against a notoriously tough Fighting Irish defense.
It was a game that got crazier as it went on. When Harper Jr’s fourth three-pointer went in to tie the game with just seconds left to play, it set up Notre Dame with one final attempt to claim the win. From here Blake Wesley narrowly missed but Atkinson Jr was on hand to get the rebound.
While the defeat will be upsetting for all Rutgers fans, there is still plenty to be proud about. Compared to some lackluster performances in recent years, the new-look Rutgers team showed plenty of fighting spirit in the thrilling end-to-end game against Notre Dame. At times it was hard to believe that this was the same team that experienced 8-23 seasons just a few years ago.
But Rutgers managed to put on some massive performances earlier this month that defied the long odds that many NJ sportsbooks had for them. The 59-58 victory over Penn State was a sweet victory and the 66-63 triumph over Indiana showed that Rutgers can put in a performance when it matters. Obviously that 84-74 defeat by Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament showed that there is still some way to go, but Rutgers have quite rightly got some confidence back after a long time in the doldrums.
It’s going to be fascinating to see where Rutgers go from here and plenty of people will be using a sportsbook bonus to back the team to keep improving. With heartbreaking defeats in back-to-back NCAA tournaments, the test is whether the college basketball team can learn from these bitter experiences. But based on the showing against Notre Dame, it seems like things are looking up for Rutgers.