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Gophers fall in Big Ten road test against Rutgers

It was an ugly Sunday in New Jersey for Minnesota.

The Gophers’ road woes continued on Sunday as they fell to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 64-56 and fell to 1-7 away from Williams Arena on the season. The loss drops them back to .500 in conference play at 4-4.

Minnesota jumped out to a 10-2 lead before a 17-2 Rutgers run – made possible by 10 straight missed field goals and four turnovers from the Gophers – gave the home team a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Daniel Oturu led the U with 19 points.

Coach Richard Pitino said his team “was not physical enough,” which was true. It also wasn’t the only reason they lost. The others:

Defensive rebounding. Rutgers entered the game second in the Big Ten in rebounding and quickly negated Minnesota’s recent advantage on the boards. The Scarlet Knights won the rebounding battle 45-35 and picked up 20 offensive boards, including an absurd 15 in the first half. That powered a 16-2 points-in-the-paint advantage before the break that swung the game and a 32-12 total advantage to seal it.

Whether grabbing missed free throws, chasing down 50-50 balls off of misses, big men beating defenders into position, or guards aggressively crashing, Rutgers had their way with the Gophers all game. Pitino credited the Scarlet Knights’ physicality, saying they “manhandled us on the offensive glass.”

Shooting. Essentially the entire team left something to be desired when it came to shooting on Sunday, on the way to a 35% showing from the field, 19 missed threes, and just 15 attempts from the line after 29 and 27, respectively, against Penn State and Michigan. 

Oturu and Marcus Carr, a combined 15-31 shooting on Wednesday, went 8-24, failing to make a field goal in the first half. Oturu scored just 2 points before the break and forced bad attempts from three in both halves; Carr’s only two made field goals were threes with under a minute left and the game out of hand. 

Alihan Demir, with 43 points over his previous four games, went 0-5. But it is Gabe Kalscheur and Payton Willis who are worth talking about here.

Kalscheur drilled a three on the first possession, knocked down a smooth pull-up jumper on the next, and hit a toe-on-the-three-point-line jumper shortly thereafter for 7 of the team’s first 10 points. After those 7 in the game’s first 3:30, his only made shot the rest of the way was a breakaway layup, one of just two second half attempts. 

Willis was similarly hot early, with 12 points before the break on four threes, his most productive game in nearly two months, looking like the guy who was in double figures five of the season’s first seven games rather than the one battling injuries and a shooting slump as of late. He took just one shot in the second half.

Games where open looks don’t fall are disheartening, but this is something else. Sure, Oturu was the focal point of the offense in the second half, but it’s unconscionable to have your two wing-players combine for 19 points in the first half and only attempt one shot in the half-court offense each in the second. Rutgers obviously made some defensive adjustments, but none drastic enough to take the ball out of both Kalscheur's and Willis’ hands.

Sloppiness. Rutgers’ 17-2 first half run was the difference in the game. It was powered by an 11-0 spurt. Here are how the Gophers’ possessions ended during that run:

  • Kalscheur pass stolen
  • Tre’ Williams badly missed three
  • Oturu missed three
  • Carr pass intercepted
  • Demir travel
  • Oturu, blissfully, getting an offensive rebound and drawing a foul to make a free throw

Bad looks, lazy passes, poor ball movement – basically an encapsulation of everything that went wrong in New Jersey. Errors in the fundamental aspects of the game and aggressive defense by a rotation of Rutgers guards, especially Montez Mathis, against Carr combined to hold a Minnesota team which had scored at least 75 points in seven of their previous eight games to just 56.

Next up is a Thursday trip to Columbus for a rematch with Ohio State. The Buckeyes, losers of five of six, are nonetheless 10-1 at home.

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