In past years, Minnesota may have looked at a trip to Rutgers as an ideal opportunity to pick up a victory on the road. However, the Gophers knew that this season they would receive a battle from a Scarlet Knight team sitting near the top of the Big Ten Standings.
As expected, every possession was a grind for Minnesota (10-8, 4-4 Big Ten) who could find few easy baskets in a 64-56 defeat against Rutgers (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten). The Scarlet Knights prevented the Gophers from scoring near the basket, limiting them to 12 points in the paint and controlling the glass, finishing with a 45-35 rebounding advantage.
"It's all about the rebounding," head coach Richard Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "You have to commit bodies and then come down and rebound the ball. We didn't do that."
Initially, Minnesota played with plenty of energy, connecting on four of their first five field goal attempts to take a 10-2 lead, but the shots quickly stopped falling. The Gophers shot 0-10 from the field over a 8:55 stretch during which Rutgers outscored them 17-2.
The Scarlet Knights took charge of the game as they thoroughly controlled the paint. Rutgers secured 15 offensive rebounds in the first half and limited Minnesota to four points in the paint as the hosts built a nine-point halftime lead.
"They absolutely 'out-physicaled' us and out-toughed us," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "You absolutely cannot win on the road like that."
Sophomore Daniel Oturu struggled to get touches in the post and score down low as he had in previous games. Instead, the Gophers looked to the perimeter for buckets. Their primary outside scorers, redshirt junior Payton Willis and sophomore Gabe Kalscheur scored 19 of Minnesota's 25 first-half points. Made 3-pointers accounted for all 12 of Willis' points before intermission while Kalscheur also added a three.
Another Rutgers run, this time a 9-0 stretch, began before halftime and continued into the second period, giving the Scarlet Knights a 39-25 edge before Oturu attacked the basket off the dribble to score his first field goal of the afternoon, 3:26 into the second half. After a frustrating start, Oturu came alive, helping the Gophers chip away at Rutgers' lead.
"We needed to get him down low more," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "When he finally got down there and demanded it, he was very effective."
Minnesota cut the deficit in half, from 45-31 to 49-42 with an 11-4 run. Oturu accounted for eight points during that time. Out of the under-8 minute media time out, the teams traded baskets before Rutgers pushed their lead back to double digits with a three. Gophers freshman Tre' Williams hit a three to cut the lead to seven points with 3:02 remaining, but Rutgers junior Geo Baker drilled an off-balance three of his own, pushing his team's edge to an insurmountable margin.
Oturu led all scorers with 19 points and recorded a team-high nine rebounds. Willis did not score in the second half but, with 12 points, was the only other Gopher scoring in double figures. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr finished with eight points and a game-high five assists after not scoring until 13:39 into the second half.
"They are going to commit two [defenders] to [Carr]," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "And I think we got a lot of open threes because of that. I thought Marcus was finding them, it was just a matter of us missing."
Rutgers finished the contest with four players scoring in double figures. Sophomores Montez Mathis, Ron Harper Jr. and junior Jacob Young all scored 11 points while sophomore Caleb McConnell posted 10 points and 12 boards.
Still seeking their first true-road victory of the season, Minnesota will have another opportunity on Thursday, Jan. 23 against Ohio State.