After the last minute decision by the NCAA to declare the Big Ten’s Super Saturday event at Madison Square Garden a home game for Rutgers, the fan base made sure it felt that way. Of the 14,844 in attendance as the basketball mecca, there was roughly 80% of fans dressed in scarlet and rooting for RU. While playing a conference game at the RAC should always be the priority, the fans came through in a big way and the Scarlet Knights responded with a gutty 61-55 victory.
“First, I appreciate everyone that came out,” head coach Steve Pikiell said in the postgame press conference. “I just loved that we kept hanging in there. I thought in the second half, we really started getting downhill, and Paul did an unbelievable job. Rutgers Nation was here tonight and loud, and we needed it.”
Paul Mulcahy, who led Rutgers with 17 points and took the game over down the stretch added, “It was scarlet all over. Great atmosphere. Kudos to them. Really thankful for them.” ” He told Andy Katz, “It’s beautiful. Rutgers nation showed out. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s scarlet and I love this university. Just thankful for Rutgers nation.”
It wasn’t just the program that was impressed with the showing that Rutgers fans produced.
“Rutgers fans who are here, take a bow. You made this feel like a home game today,” tweeted Jerry Carino, the dean of the college basketball beat in New Jersey. Earlier in the game, he tweeted, “Everybody wearing red is standing. This place is cooking” and also “It’s starting to sound like Jersey in here now.”
Michigan State beat writer Graham Couch was impressed. He wrote, “Maybe Rutgers is New York’s Big Ten team after all. I know this, Northwestern — “Chicago’s Big Ten team” or something — could never come close to putting as many fans in the United Center as Rutgers did Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The place was close to packed and mostly in red.”
Couch continued, “Playing off campus at MSG instead of in Piscataway was certainly to MSU’s advantage. There were a couple thousand Spartan faithful in the building and you could see and hear them. But when Rutgers got rolling for a bit in the second half, the Garden was theirs. It felt as loud as any Big Ten home arena.”
The national media took notice too.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports of tweeted, “Interested to see if today’s experience at MSG will lead to Steve Pikiell and Rutgers attempting to play more games there in the future, especially in non-conference play. An elite atmosphere on 33rd and 8th.”
Matt Norlander, also of CBS Sports, tweeted, “Sincere question: How many years has it been since St. John’s fans provided an atmosphere in MSG like the one Rutgers fans brought to the building today vs. Michigan State?”
Fox broadcaster and Field of 68 contributor John Fanta tweeted, “Here’s another note: Rutgers played a home game today … at Madison Square Garden. Major credit to their fanbase. They’ve been outstanding.”
I attended the first Super Saturday game that Rutgers played in. It was against a nationally ranked Wisconsin in 2017. The Scarlet Knights led the Badgers by nine points with just over three minutes remaining before losing in overtime. It was year one of the Steve Pikiell era. I sat in press row and was upset. Madison Square Garden, the best basketball arena in the world, a place I had watched many Rutgers games over the years, was overrun with Wisconsin fans. There were Scarlet Knights fans, but they were in the minority.
Earlier in that first season for Pikiell, Rutgers played Fordham as part of the ECAC Holiday Festival. I was one of maybe a couple thousand people in attendance. It was eerie to see the Garden so empty, the emptiest I’d ever seen it by far. These truly were the early days of the Pikiell era.
I was also in press row for all three games that Rutgers played in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament at the Garden. Things began to change. The transformation on those three nights was incredible. From the No.11/No. 14 game that was lightly attended in which RU beat Minnesota to the overwhelming Indiana crowd the next night, to see the place rock in delight when Geo Baker hit a massive three in the second half against top ten Purdue was one of the most surprising and satisfying moments of my life as a Rutgers fan. The environment was tremendous as Pikiell’s second team at RU gave the Boilermakers all they could handle in the Quarterfinals. It was foreshadowing for what was coming.
I wasn’t there in 2020 when Michigan played Rutgers but the atmosphere was great. But on this Saturday, the Garden truly was painted in Scarlet. With RU in trouble early in the second half, the fan base helped push this team forward. It wasn’t the RAC, but it wasn’t a neutral court either. No, it was the Garden. The official home of St. John’s and the Big East Tournament. And Rutgers owned the joint because the fan base has embraced Pikiell’s program in a way that is special.
Even the Empire State building showed support for Rutgers.
How’d this work out https://t.co/wRvBJs2TWx
— Empire State Building (@EmpireStateBldg) February 4, 2023
After years of Big Ten fan bases mocking the men’s basketball program and Rutgers fans, Jersey’s own Paul Mulcahy was driving through the heart of a legendary coach’s team on national television in broad daylight. And Rutgers fans made the Garden more and more raucous with every big play down the stretch.
This drive by Paul Mulcahy puts Rutgers up 51-44 with 2:10 to play. pic.twitter.com/Z65N8IULnJ
— Pat Lanni (@PatLanniNJ) February 4, 2023
The Scarlet Knights have now beaten the Spartans in three of their last four meetings.
Despite it all, it’s not surprising the head coach was quick to point out the team’s true home when asked about wanting play at the Garden more in the future.
“I love playing here and we have a lot of alums in the area, but I like Jersey Mike’s, too,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “It’s a big advantage for us.”
Pikiell would play all 31 games on the regular season schedule at the RAC if he could. I don’t blame him for having that sentiment. However, Saturday proved that his hard work in turning around the program was responsible for such a strong show of support from the fan base. It would be wise to find a way to capitalize on that in the future. He created this reality.
I agree all Big Ten home games should be at the RAC. Super Saturday is likely done at the Garden anyway as the contract expired after this game. However, as Jerry Carino highlighted in talking to former Rutgers players, the program should strongly consider playing non-conference games at the Garden. Whether its in the Jimmy V Classic, another sponsored game or even an independently scheduled contest, playing at the Garden with the program as connected to the fan base as it is now would be special. Just like it was on Saturday.
Either way, Rutgers fans continue to support this program with passion and dedication. Saturday was no different, but it was a clear statement was made in the World’s Greatest Arena. The Scarlet Knights are legit on the court and the fan base backs them as well as any in the Big Ten.
— Rutgers Scarlet Knights (@RUAthletics) February 4, 2023
Thanks for reading the The Scarlet Faithful. For more Rutgers Athletics content from The Scarlet Faithful, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. You can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel. You can subscribe to The Scarlet Faithful podcast on Apple, Spotify, Pocket Casts and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. For advertising inquiries or to reach out directly, email at email@example.com