PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Ron Harper Jr.'s dad hit plenty of big shots in a career that included five NBA titles, so perhaps it was no surprise that Harper told his Rutgers teammates he'd send them home winners against No. 1 Purdue.
He backed up his words with the most stunning shot of the young college hoops season.
Harper hit a buzzer-beater from just inside half court, and Rutgers shocked Purdue in its first-ever game as the nation’s No. 1 team, winning 70-68 on Thursday night.
“Wow wow wow!” Magic Johnson tweeted.
Harper finished with a career-high 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 10 rebounds in a do-it-all performance for the Scarlet Knights (5-4, 1-1 Big Ten), who beat the top-ranked team for the first time in program history.
“When you go on the road, you gotta be 10 points better than somebody, because if you allow it to be close, crazy things can happen,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Obviously, that was a once-in-a-lifetime shot, but we allowed it to be close.”
Purdue had gone ahead 68-67 on a layup by Trevion Williams with 4 seconds left. With no timeouts, Mawot Mag inbounded the ball to Harper, who dribbled across the half-court line and let it fly from the big “R” logo. The ball rattled through as time expired and Rutgers fans stormed the court.
“I huddled these guys up, and I’m like, God forbid they score, give me the ball, and I’m going to send them home,” said Harper, a 6-foot-6 senior who came in averaging 14.8 points per game. “Mawot found me quickly and I was able to cut up the court in like three seconds and I threw one up.”
Williams had 21 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for Purdue (8-1, 1-1 Big Ten), which was a unanimous No. 1 in this week’s AP Top 25, the program’s first time atop the poll. Its stay will be brief.
The lead changed hands three times in the final 13.1 seconds. Harper hit a turnaround jumper to put Rutgers ahead 67-66, its first lead since early in the second half.
“We just kept hanging around, fighting,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “It didn’t look like it was going our way a few times and they just stayed the course and made big plays and made big stops.”
Purdue had a 10-point lead with 8 minutes left before Rutgers began chipping away.
Caleb McConnell made a turnaround jumper in the paint to get Rutgers within 65-63 with 2:07 remaining, and Mag pulled Rutgers within one on a dunk off a pass from Harper with 1:05 left.
McConnell had 12 points, five rebounds, and five assists for Rutgers, and Mag also scored 12 points. Jaden Ivey scored 15 points for Purdue, which has lost four straight to Rutgers.
Ron Harper Sr. was an elite scorer who became a role player and shutdown defender for Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, winning three straight NBA titles from 1996-98.
The elder Harper added two more rings in his final two seasons with Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
This week in 1984, Harper scored 30 points to help Miami (Ohio) beat Purdue.
Rutgers had several players sick this week with what Pikiell described as the flu, including senior captain Geo Baker, who was set to return from a hamstring injury after missing four games.
“Geo practiced yesterday,” Pikiell said. “He got the flu this morning and couldn’t play.”
The Rutgers starting five logged heavy minutes, and the Scarlet Knights got only five points from their reserves.
Purdue: The Boilermakers were off to another strong start, going 8-0 for the third time under Painter and looking like a Big Ten title contender. They’ll have to regroup after crumbling under the scrutiny of the No. 1 ranking.
Rutgers: After making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the 30 years last season, it had been a rough start to the 2021-22 campaign, with losses at UMass and Big East bottom-feeder DePaul, as well as at home to Lafayette. Now the Scarlet Knights know they can beat anybody.
Purdue: Hosts North Carolina State on Sunday.
Rutgers: At rival No. 23 Seton Hall on Sunday.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25