The college basketball gods finally decided the Rutgers men's basketball team had suffered long enough. What other explanation can there be after hosting a Minnesota team so badly shorthanded for the last game of the regular season? After losing 32 straight Big Ten games and enduring a program record 17 game losing streak, Rutgers was handed a win on a silver platter. It had been 68 days since they last won a game, an 89-66 victory over UMASS-Lowell. It had been an incredible 419 days since Rutgers last won a Big Ten conference game, the epic upset of last season's national runner-up, Wisconsin. Despite a disaster of a season and a litany of injuries, suspensions, terrible coaching, and precious few positive moments this season, Rutgers finished with a desperately needed victory. They defeated Minnesota 75-52 in a game that was over at halftime, quite the role reversal for this team.
Beautiful basketball this game was not, but credit Rutgers for coming out focused and jumping out to a amazing 29-4 lead with 8:46 left in the first half. Perhaps just as amazing, it was behind the three-point shooting of Mike Williams, who went 4-4 from behind the arc during that opening stretch. The last time Williams hit 4 shots from long range in a game was on November 21st against Central Arkansas when he shot 5-8 from deep. He finished the half with 16 points, outscoring the entire Minnesota team, who trailed Rutgers 40-15 at the break.
The 15 first half points scored by Minnesota is the fewest at halftime for an #RHoops opponent since St. Peters had 12 on Nov. 30, 2008.— Rutgers Basketball (@RutgersMBB) March 5, 2016
Minnesota, playing without five of their top six scorers, shot a horrific 6-40 for 15% from the field in the first half. The reason they were able to take so many shots was due to their 10 offensive rebounds. Although Rutgers won the rebounding battle for the game with a 46-42 edge, they still allowed an unsavory 20 offensive rebounds in total by the Gophers. The issue was Minnesota could not take advantage and finished the game shooting 22-73 from the field for just 30%. Rutgers achilles heel all season has been allowing their opponents too much open space on the perimeter and getting buried by the three. Minnesota shot just 2-17 for 11% from behind the arc. Jordan Murphy, Minnesota's top scorer remaining, shot a horrendous 3-21 from the floor and finished with just 7 points.
Mike Williams continued his strong play after halftime and finished with a career high 29 points. He shot a season best 6-8 from three-point range and 9-10 from the free throw line. It was fun to see the likable Williams, who is a true grinder, play so well today. Corey Sanders forced some shots early and didn't have his best scoring game, but he made a positive impact in multiple ways. Although he only scored 12 points on 6-15 shooting from the floor, he finished with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals. It was a complete performance from Sanders, who will certainly be named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team next week.
For the senior class of walk-on Jalen Hyde, Bishop Daniels, Omari Grier, and captain Greg Lewis, today's victory was especially sweet. No matter what your thoughts are on their performances this season, you can't help but be happy for those players in ending their careers at the RAC with a win! Daniels scored 12 points and had 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Grier was 2-3 from three-point range and finished with 8 points along with 3 rebounds.
It was Greg Lewis that received the loudest ovations, both before the game and when he exited with the victory in hand. The only player left from the Mike Rice era battled through injuries his entire career. He finished his career at the RAC with a game high 13 rebounds, along with 6 points that included a Patrick Ewing-like jump hook. The gentle giant is all class and deserved the senior day that transpired.
Big ovation for Greg Lewis on Senior Day at the RAC. Well-deserved pic.twitter.com/zriyGFK3tz— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) March 5, 2016
Rutgers finishes their second Big Ten season with a 1-17 conference record and completes the regular season with a 7-24 record. Despite a very disappointing third season as coach for Eddie Jordan, it was nice to see him end the losing streaks before the season was over, in what may turn out to be the last game he coaches at the RAC. Next up is the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday, where they will be the 14th seed and play the 11th seed. Who they play is still to be determined based on how this weekend's conference action finishes up. As Rutgers takes a few days to prepare, they finally have something positive to reflect on. Hopefully, they can build on today's win and come out ready to play Wednesday, regardless of who the opponent is. For now, there is only one thing left to do. We dance!