In the first Big Ten matchup of the year for the Gophers, the Scarlet Knights came to Williams Arena, ready to play down low.
Rutgers out-rebounded the Gophers 19-8 in the first 10 minutes of the game, allowing them to shoot badly and still keep the game close.
The rebound advantage wouldn’t last forever for Rutgers, as the Gophers ended up out-rebounding them 46-43, and No. 12 Minnesota (8-1, 1-0 Big Ten) beat Rutgers (6-2, 0-1 Big Ten) 89-67 in the Gophers' first Big Ten game of the year.
“[It] wasn’t a masterpiece but Rutgers tends to do that to you,” head coach Richard Pitino said. "But to win by 22 in this league is hard to do, so [I’m] happy with it.”
Coming off their first loss of the season to No. 10 Miami on Wednesday, the Gophers beat the Scarlet Knights, a team that finished last in the Big Ten last year. The win was Pitino’s first Big Ten home-opener victory of his career with the Gophers.
Though it’s a win, the game was not perfectly executed by any means, as Rutgers out-rebounded Minnesota 28-21 in the first half. The Gophers big men turned up their in-paint presence in the second half and brought the rebound battle back in favor of the Gophers at the end of the game.
“I thought that when we started rebounding the ball, that’s when we pulled away,” Pitino said. “It was good to get back into that flow, you know with [guard Dupree McBrayer] in there I just thought we were better all around defensively and more connected and it just felt more comfortable.”
McBrayer returned to the game after missing the Miami game with a leg infection. His leg was wrapped up and he was noticeably not as quick or effective as he has been in the past. McBrayer started 1-9 from the floor and finished 3-13 with seven points.
“[McBrayer] missed a couple shots that he usually makes, but that just comes with time and just getting healthy,” guard Nate Mason said. “But it felt pretty good. You could see the chemistry was really there, we play off each other very well.”
Mason had a season-high 26 points in the Rutgers game, shooting 8-13 from the floor with four three-pointers. He had a team-leading seven assists as well.
Mason started the second half with two threes, which got the Rutgers defense to spread out to the perimeter more and allowed the players down low like Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy to get points in the paint.
"When [Mason] hits a couple threes back-to-back, it opens up the entire floor," Murphy said. "They can’t really double off of [Mason] or [guard Amir Coffey] or [McBrayer], where it was hot and that just gives us more room to operate down low.
Murphy achieved his ninth double-double in as many games played this season, after scoring 18 points and grabbing 16 boards in the Rutgers game.
The Scarlet Knights top scorer was center Mamadou Doucoure, who scored 13 points before fouling out in the final minutes of the game.
The Gophers continue Big Ten play on Tuesday when they go on the road to play Nebraska (6-3, 0-1 Big Ten) in the first road Big Ten game of the season. Nebraska played No. 3 Michigan State on Sunday and got beat 86-57.
“We got to really lock in the scouting report and whatever game plan the coaches come up with,” Murphy said. “And just making sure that we’re taking care of our bodies tomorrow and make sure we’re working hard and getting up shots and game reps.”