Rutgers played hard but failed to keep the game close in a 88-70 loss at Minnesota on Saturday afternoon. Their strong defense from earlier in the week didn’t travel and losing Caleb McConnell due to an apparent injury was an issue that hurt their second half performance. There were some encouraging play inside from Myles Johnson and Shaq Carter, but overall Rutgers couldn’t keep up with Minnesota.
First Half Summary
Minnesota came out on fire, making all three shots from behind the arc in the first four minutes of the game, helping them jump out to a 13-5 lead. After the first timeout, Rutgers implemented a 2-3 zone and along with attacking the paint on offense, they got back into the game behind a 9-2 run. It was capped by a three-pointer from Caleb McConnell on the break and Rutgers trailed 17-16 at the under-12 timeout. However, Rutgers got sloppy with the ball and Minnesota started finding holes in the moiddle of the zone. Head coach Steve Pikiell called a timeout with just over 8 minutes left in the half as the Golden Gophers were in the midst of a 10-2 run to extend the lead to 27-18. They had made four shots in a row and held a 7-0 edge in points off of turnovers at this point in the game.
Rutgers was playing smart in the halfcourt though and Myles Johnson led the team with 8 points with 5 minutes left in the opening fram and trailing 31-26. Unfortunately, Johnson slipped in the paint and was down for a couple of minutes. He left the floor on his own but was limping. Fortunately he returned but Minnesota led 39-32 at the half. Rutgers had forced a few shots from the perimeter and it hurt them. However, Caleb McConnell, who had 9 points in the first half, fell to the floor on a drive on the defensive end. He didn’t play the entire second half and his status is unknown at the time of this posting.
Minnesota shot 6-11 from three-point range, 7-10 from the free throw line, and 48% overall from the field. Rutgers did a good job of getting inside, as they held a 16-14 edge in points in the paint. They shot 46% in the first half and 6-8 from the free throw line, but were just 2-10 from three-point range. The real difference was turnovers, as Rutgers committed 8 to just 4 from Minnesota, who held a 12-2 advantage in points off of turnovers. Also, Mathis and Harper Jr, both of whom started, were both 0-2 from the floor and held scoreless in the half.
Second Half Summary
After the break, Rutgers got both involved on the first possession, as Harper Jr. found Mathis cutting for a layup. However, Minnesota established its largest lead of the game at 45-36 just two minutes into the second half. Fortunately, Harper Jr. made his first bucket of the day, a three-pointer at the top of the key.
The issue was that Minnesota’s two best players, Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy, took over offensively and Rutgers couldn’t stop them Both scored 6 points each to start the half and had an answer for every Rutgers basket in the first six minutes after the break. Still, Geo Baker had a nice drive and scoop to cut it to 51-45. However, Coffey converted a three-point play on the next possession to push the lead back to 9 points.
Rutgers hadn’t shown the 2-3 zone at all in the second half up until this point, but then implemented it. Back to back possessions with baskets from Peter Kiss and Myles Johnson cut the lead to 54-59 at the 13 minute mark. Rutgers was staying in it due to attacking the rim and held a 30-24 edge with points in the paint at this stage of the game. However, Minnesota worked the ball well against the zone after the timeout which led to Gabe Kalscheur knocking down a wide open three. Every time Rutgers was close to cutting the lead down from 5-6 points in the game, Minnesota answered with a big basket.
Rutgers never got closer than 63-56 and fell into a devastating 1 for 10 stretch from the floor. Minnesota went on 25-14 run to close out the game for a 88-70 victory.
Late in the game Montez Mathis handed the ball to Isaiah Washington in his stomach after he was fouled. Washington then tossed the ball off of Mathis’ head, who then shoved him. The officials reviewed the play for several minutes and both players were ejected, as were a coach from each side. For Rutgers it was Pikiell’s special assistant Ben Asher, who rushed the court to pull Mathis out of the fray. It may have gotten him ejected, but I thought it was a smart move to get Mathis as far away from trouble as possible.
The Game Changed When
McConnell’s injury was a costly one in this game, as Rutgers had just 8 scholarship players available in the second half. He was also very effective with 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting and 3 rebounds in 11 first half minutes with a +5 rating. Rutgers missed him dearly in the second half and left Baker as the only ball handler on the court.
It Was Over When
Trailing by 10 with just under 8 minutes to play, Amir Coffey slammed home a viscous dunk over Peter Kiss in transition. The Barn crowd exploded and after Isaiah Washington scored quickly on the next possession, Pikiell was forced to call a timeout. Rutgers didn’t seem to have much of a chance to recover from 14 points down with seven minutes remaining. They were mired in a 1 of 10 shooting stretch and the Gophers put the game out of reach behind a 14-3 run.
For Minnesota, Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy dominated in this game. Coffey led all scorers with 29 points on 10 of 14 shooting and 8 of 10 from the free throw line. He added 4 assists and 3 rebounds. Murphy was unstoppable in the paint at times and finished with 15 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. Dupree McBrayer was also key in making 4 of 6 from three-point range and finished with 15 points.
For Rutgers, Myles Johnson had the best game of his young career against a formidable frontcourt of Minnesota. He scored a career high 13 points on 5 of 11 shootings and led the team with 8 rebounds, as well as 2 assists. He was an effective low post presence for a team that desperately needs one. He will get plenty of minutes in Omoruyi’s absence and today’s performance was encouraging.
Rutgers was +2 on the boards overall, including +6 on offensive rebounds, which led to a 16-6 edge in second chance points. They also won the battle for points in the paint at 40-34. Rutgers did a good job of attacking the rim at times, but missed McConnell’s ability to penetrate in the second half and for the game shot too many three-pointers, making just 4 of 18 for 22%. Overall they shot 42% for the second game in a row.
Minnesota shot 50% in the game, including 10 of 24 for 42% from three-point range. They were also great from the free throw line, making 20 of 25 for 80% after making just 9 of 23 in the loss to Maryland. Rutgers was 10 of 16 from the line in the game.
The Gophers held a 24-19 edge in fast break points.
Other Notable Rutgers Stats
Geo Baker also scored 13 points, but was just 5 of 14 shooting and forced it at times. He also had 3 turnovers to just 2 assists.
Shaq Carter was effective in the paint early on and finished with 8 points overall, but he just 2 points in the second half. He was in foul trouble with 4, but did grab 6 boards in the game and added 2 assists as well.
Mathis was quiet early but was more aggressive in the second half. He finished with 8 points on 3 of 8 shooting along with 3 rebounds and 2 assists before his ejection.
Ron Harper Jr. scored 9 points behind 2 of 5 from three-point range, along with 3 boards and 2 assists.
What We Learned
Rutgers can’t afford to lose McConnell for any stretch of time. He looked really good in the first half and Rutgers did not attack as well from the perimeter in his absence. With Omoruyi out for at least the next game and likely longer, losing McConnell would mean only having 8 scholarship players available with Doucoure out indefinitely. Rutgers now has three games in seven days starting on Tuesday so it’s bad timing as Big Ten play is in full swing.
Also, the defense was not where it needed to be in this game. Minnesota made some big three’s early and their confidence never waned. The 2-3 zone was effective at times for Rutgers, but Minnesota did a good job of finding holes and open shooters. If Rutgers wants to win on the road in conference play, they need much better defense than they played today.
Rutgers stays on the road and will visit Purdue on Tuesday night. The Boilermakers won Friday night on the road at Wisconsin 84-80 in overtime. They are 10-6 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play. Mackey Arena is not an easy place to play and Rutgers hasn’t had any success there since joining the conference, so this will be a difficult game for sure. The Scarlet Knights are now 8-7 on the season and 1-4 in Big Ten play.
For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.