WEST LAFAYETTE — Last season, Cam Spencer could only dream about playing a part in Rutgers’ stunning upset over No. 1 Purdue.
On Monday night, the grad transfer played the starring role in the even more shocking sequel.
Spencer made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds to play, and the Scarlet Knights thwarted the Boilermakers’ final two chances to save their perfect season by holding on for a 65-64 victory over the nation’s top-ranked team again.
“It was one of the best games I’d ever seen,” Spencer said, referring to Ron Harper Jr.’s buzzer-beating half-court shot to beat Purdue in December 2021. “So it was pretty cool to do it again, here.”
This time, the Scarlet Knights (10-4, 2-1 Big Ten) were playing in front of a roaring, sellout crowd at Mackey Arena as Purdue charged back from a 10-point halftime deficit.
But with Spencer, a grad transfer from Loyola (Maryland), and a little help from his new friends, Rutgers earned the school’s second ever victory over the nation’s top-ranked team — both coming against the Boilermakers.
Paul Mulcahy finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead the Scarlet Knights. Spencer scored 14, Clifford Omoruyi added 12 points and together Rutgers’ suffocating defense held the high-scoring Boilermakers largely in check.
Purdue (13-1, 2-1) was led by Zach Edey, who overcame early foul trouble to finish with 19 points and 11 rebounds. It just wasn’t enough to earn a 14th win that would have matched the best start in school history — or to have kept pace with New Mexico as the Division I’s last unbeaten teams.
“I just thought at the end of the day, Rutgers was mentally and physically tougher, even if we had won the game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “I thought we could have if we had gotten a stop or two there.”
They just couldn’t when it mattered most.
Rutgers’ defense controlled the game most of the night, taking a 34-24 halftime lead before Purdue charged back, eventually taking a 55-52 lead on a Brandon Newman 3-pointer with 4:45 to play
Aundre Hyatt tied it with a free throw and then Mulcahy answered with the Scarlet Knights’ next four baskets to give Rutgers a 62-57 lead with 2:22 left. Again, the Boilermakers came back, taking a 64-62 lead on Fletcher Loyer’s 3-pointer with 29.6 seconds left.
But after calling timeout Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell wanted Spencer taking the shot, something Purdue initially defended.
“Coach drew up a great play but the way they played it we had to go to something else,” Spencer said.
The improvisation worked perfectly.
But Newman’s open 3 came up short and after the rebound bounced out of bounds with 0.4 seconds left. Rutgers then was called for traveling on the inbound play, giving Purdue one last-ditch chance but this time, they didn’t let Edey get his hands on the ball.
“We knew it was going to be a battle all night and we made some plays down the stretch,” Pikiell said after players started jumping around the court to celebrate. “We’re excited to come away with a win in such a tough place.”
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have hit incredible heights under Pikiell and Monday night’s win could go a long way toward yet another milestone — making a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in school history.
Purdue: Painter’s team simply made too many miscues to win number 14. Rutgers’ suffocating defense forced the Boilermakers into an uncharacteristic 13 turnovers. The Scarlet Knights had a 26-22 scoring advantage in the paint and played to near draw in rebounds, 34-31. That’s not how the Boilermakers typically win games and the combination was their undoing Monday.
Afterward, Edey acknowledged that playing through early foul trouble was part of Purdue’s problem in this game. But he offered no critique of what proved to be the final shot of the game. Instead, Edey said he could live with Newman’s shot every time.
Rutgers: Returns home Thursday against Maryland.
Purdue: Faces a major road test Thursday at No. 24 Ohio State.