Four days after completing a stunning 19 point comeback to beat Penn State on the road, Rutgers led Minnesota 70-60 with 1:15 to play. And then the unthinkable happened. The Gophers made six shots including three three’s from Jamison Battle. His last make beat the buzzer by 0.4 seconds as Minnesota beat Rutgers 75-74.
“Obviously, it was a very difficult game,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “I knew this would be a difficult game and we didn’t finish it off. We had turnovers, some missed free throws, some bad block outs, and just didn’t finish. It’s a very difficult way to end, but I wanted to congratulate Minnesota. They’ve been hanging around in all their games and Ben (Johnson’s) done a good job. He has a ton of injuries that they’re healthy now. It’s just a tough one on the road and we had our chances, obviously, but you have to finish it off and we didn’t.”
This is a crushing loss for many reasons. The Scarlet held the lead for almost 39 minutes and Minnesota’s first lead of the game came at the final buzzer. It would be bad enough if it happened in January. But Rutgers was by most bracketology projections, 1:15 away from a victory that would have locked them in for a NCAA Tournament bid. That harsh reality is not easy to bear.
Rutgers also had a chance to move into a seven team tie in second place in the Big Ten with the double bye for next week’s Big Ten Tournament on the table.
For a veteran team that has been through so much, it was difficult to watch them unable to close out the game. Cam Spencer and Caleb McConnell each missed a critical free throw in the final minute. Aundre Hyatt had the ball with open space to get past halfcourt with over 20 seconds to play, but instead passed it backwards to Paul Mulcahy. The point guard struggled mightily during the final minute plus with ill advised threes, two turnovers, and a missed block out on a rebound.
On the final possession, Rutgers didn’t pressure the ball and Minnesota was able to let the ball roll almost to midcourt saving precious seconds that proved fatal for the visitors. Pikiell had a timeout to use but opted not to. On Battle’s game winning three, Spencer left his feet and was unable to recover in time to get a hand in his face.
Rutgers shot 49% from the floor including 5 of 12 from three (42%) and 15 of 22 from the foul line (68%). Minnesota shot 48% from the floor and made 11 of 24 threes (46%) as well as 12 of 19 from the foul line (63%). RU held a +9 rebounding margin and a 17-9 advantage with second chance points. The Scarlet Knights also held a 38-28 advantage with points in the paint. However, they had a -2 turnover margin with 14 that resulted in the Gophers holding a 17-16 edge in points off of turnovers. Rutgers did have 19 assists on 27 made baskets, but the bench was outscored 23-8.
Spencer did play well overall in finishing with 21 points on 7 of 11 shooting along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Cliff Omoruyi dominated inside in finishing with a game high 23 points on 9 of 15 shooting along with 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists and a steal. Aundre Hyatt had 10 points on 4 of 8 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Caleb McConnell had 6 points on 2 of 5 shooting along with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block.
Rutgers is now 18-12 overall and 10-9 in Big Ten play. They will now be firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. However, a win on Sunday on Senior Day at the RAC could go a long way to getting RU back to March Madness for the third straight season.
Here is my rapid reaction to the loss, a rundown of the issues and what to think about moving forward with this team.
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