Geo Baker discusses final seconds, potential return, legacy and more
Rutgers called a timeout down by one point with 24 seconds left after Houston converted a second-chance layup plus a foul shot.
Geo Baker’s number was called like it has been for years now.
The Scarlet Knights started action for a play they’ve done numerous times that usually ends with Baker making a step-back jump shot and Rutgers fans going crazy after a win.
But Baker let the ball slip through his hands, the Cougars made two more free throws, and Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr. missed the game-tying 3-pointer with three seconds left.
“It was an iso play. We kind of fake two screens coming high, get the defender looking a little bit, and then I just attack. I was just trying to go to my left, in and out dribble, and it's usually just a one-dribble step-back,” Baker said. “They kind of hedged it a little bit, which I didn't really expect. I just lost it. That's a move that I’ve made like a million times. That's probably the first time I've ever lost it in that position.”
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The 10th-seeded Scarlet Knights lost 63-60 to second-seeded Houston in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. It was Rutgers’ first appearance in the dance since 1991, and it was coming off of its first victory in the tournament in 38 years.
“There was a lot of emotion. We've been through so much this year that if you weren't inside, then you really can't understand from isolating, to wins, to losses, to being here in March. A lot of us were trying to go to March Madness last year and we didn't get that chance [because of COVID-19],” Baker said. “So for a lot of us, it's been two years now. So just leading up to this moment, to lose like that was tough. Then to add to it, coach (Joe) Boylan was my biggest supporter since I first stepped foot on campus. Just always talking and always calming me. He asks me about how my family is, how my mom is, how I'm doing, just so much more than just basketball. So to hear that too, it only added to the emotion in the locker room. This was just a really tough day overall.”
The senior captain and many of his teammates were in tears as they headed off the court. In the locker room, they all shared the same message to one another.
“Just how much everyone loves each other. I didn't really say much to be honest with you. Everyone was just saying that we love each other, and we're proud of each other and everything that we did, and everything that we've been through,” Baker said. “Any one of us could have opted out. Players all over the country opted out because of COVID, but we all stuck with it.”
Rutgers was up by 10 points at 50-40 and 52-42 with 8:45 remaining, but Houston ended the game on a 14-2 run over the course of the last 4:33.
Baker wasn’t satisfied that the team made the tournament, won a game, and held tough against a strong opponent that was favored to win.
“I thought we could have gone farther. Came down to one possession,” Baker said. “Felt we could have done something more. I mean as a competitor, you're never really satisfied. You can kind of always just want more. I let that slip away on the last play.”
Coach Steve Pikiell called his team “resilient”. Baker isn’t sure if he’ll ever get over the game and the loss, but he’ll use it as motivation and a lesson going forward.
“I don't think people ever really get over tough times. You have to live with it and bounce back,” Baker said. “Losses are lessons. I've learned a lot of lessons through my life. This is probably just gonna be another one of those. How do you take it in, how do you react to it, how do you bounce back and make something positive out of it?
“I don't know if I'm ever really gonna forget today, or get over it, but there's better days ahead. You have to understand that and work through it.”
During a normal year, Baker, like other seniors, would be done playing in college, but he has a chance to come back due to a new NCAA rule that gives everyone a blanket waiver and an extra year of eligibility due to COVID.
Baker still hasn’t publicly tipped his hand either way, but he wants to go down as a winner who helped change the culture of Rutgers basketball.
“Honestly I haven't really thought about that,” Baker said on if he’ll return. “I don't know if any of the guys have thought about that. I've always wanted my legacy to be a winner, and I don't really know where that stands right now, to be honest with you. That's just what I've always felt like I am, a winner. That's just what I want to be known for.
“I don't really care about stats or individual stuff or any of that. We just want to be a winning team and because that's always the most important thing. At the end of the day, basketball's a game of wins and losses.”
All season long, Pikiell and players have talked about all the testing they’ve gone through every day and the isolating. They haven’t seen family since before the season really. It’s been tough, but it’s been worth it, even if there were times where they questioned it.
“I don't think so,” Baker said on if there’s relief, even just a little, that the season is now over. “Sometimes during the season you may have that thought for a second whether it's you're isolating or you're away from your family or it's even just a hard day on the court. But at the end of the day we all play this game because we love it. We love to compete, and March Madness only intensifies that. It only makes you want even more so. I don't think there's any relief for anyone. You always just wish you could just keep playing.”
Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisNalwasky.