Forget March: This Year, Rutgers Experienced Madness in January
by Scott Logan
While March Madness is taking the nation by storm right now, the highlight of Rutgers men’s basketball season took place back in January. The season may be over for the Scarlet Knights, but there were still plenty of highlights during the 2014-15 season, none bigger than Rutgers’ historic win over Wisconsin on Jan. 11 of this year.
The result was such a huge upset since Wisconsin has made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four, and is just two wins away from a national championship. Meanwhile, Rutgers finished with a 10-22 record, and did not make any postseason tournaments.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with senior forward Stephen Zurich. We talked about the excitement surrounding the Wisconsin game, the exhilarating feeling of victory, and what it was like being a part of the underdog group that toppled the then-fourth-ranked team in the nation.
Zurich will graduate in May with a degree in economics, and has played his final game as a Scarlet Knight. But he acknowledged that he will never forget the memories he made as a member of this program.
“I think everyone was a little more locked in during the practices leading up to the game because we were excited,” Zurich said. “I don’t think we really felt a lot of pressure leading up to the game. As the underdog, we knew no one was really expecting us to be competitive.”
Zurich said that the team knew they were up against impossible odds, but felt like fate was on Rutgers’ side after watching North Carolina State upset previously undefeated Duke earlier in the day.
“After it ended,” he said, “we kind of looked around and said, ‘Okay, there goes one. Now it’s our turn.’”
Facing a 12-point deficit at halftime, things looked bleak for the Scarlet Knights. But a dominating second-half performance gave Rutgers a two-point lead with under a minute to play. Senior point guard Myles Mack drove to the rim for a layup, extending Rutgers’ lead to four with 33 seconds left. It all but sealed the victory, and everyone in the arena knew it, as the fans in attendance and the players on the court began to celebrate, including Zurich.
“It’s hard to describe that feeling in words,” Zurich recalled. “You see the clock ticking down and you know what you just accomplished and it’s just incredible. You’re so happy for yourself, your teammates, your coaches, your fans, and the University.”
After the final buzzer, the stands emptied and the fans rushed the court to celebrate an unforgettable victory. Zurich recalls dancing with his teammates, students, and fans. Even the coaching staff got in on the fun. Zurich said assistant coach Mike O’Koren was seen dancing and singing in the locker room.
The Scarlet Knights lost their remaining 15 games on the schedule, exiting the Big Ten Tournament in the first round after a loss to Minnesota. But Zurich chooses to reflect on the wins, especially over Wisconsin.
He said, “I’ve spent more time with my Rutgers family these past couple years than my own family. So you really build a deep bond with everyone and that’s what I’ll always remember. The wins and losses will fade, but I’ll have this team forever.”
“It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Zurich said. “When people look back on this game and this team, my name will be right there and that’s a really cool feeling.”