In the late game on Wednesday night, Minnesota took the court against Rutgers in a game that would determine which team got to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive and have the opportunity to face Ohio State on Thursday. Following a tight battle in the 1st Half, Minnesota pulled away and moved on with the win by a final score of 73-64.
The game started out with some solid play from Rutgers. Myles Mack not only had a nice steal at the beginning of the game, but he was also able to create shots, hit a few decent looks and found some open teammates. As the early segments of the game continued, Kadeem Jack got involved and Rutgers held a 15-12 lead with 13:56 remaining in the 1st Half. Minnesota had shown some flashes, but it was largely reliant on Nate Mason to create shots early.
However, as the 1st Half developed, Jack was forced to the bench a few times and this was a key run that turned the momentum in the game. Minnesota took a 20-19 lead with 8:19 remaining in the 1st Half and really never looked back. Mason kept making plays inside and kept getting good looks. He would finish with 15 points on the night and an offensive rating of 124. Mack was able to make some big plays down the stretch in the 1st Half to keep things close, but at halftime, the score was Minnesota 30-27.
In the 2nd Half, things began competitively again and Bishop Daniels, Jack, and Mack really led the charge for Rutgers. For Minnesota, they got a lot of production from role players like Charles Buggs, Bakary Konate, and Carlos Morris to not only keep the Gophers in the game, but push them ahead. Once Deandre Mathieu and Mason started making some plays and getting teammates in position for easy looks, Minnesota was able to push the lead to 54-42 with 11:16 remaining in the game.
Down the stretch, Rutgers got a good hunk of offensive production, but their inability to make defensive stops doomed them. In total, there were 5 players on Minnesota's roster that finished with at least a 110 offensive rating, four players finished with double-digits and their best player, Andre Hollins, didn't even score a point. Considering that Hollins took just 5 shots all night, Rutgers clearly had a problem keep Hollins' teammates from getting open.
For Minnesota, this means they will move on to face Ohio State on Thursday evening. They are pretty sizable underdogs coming into this game, especially considering that they played the day before, but it will be a rematch of one of the most exciting games of Big Ten play earlier this season when Minnesota took Ohio State to overtime at home. Both teams have come a long way since then, but considering the way Minnesota's frontcourt has played the last few games, perhaps they can exploit a relatively underwhelming frontcourt from Ohio State. Otherwise, they will likely finish their year in the NIT.
For Rutgers, this should be the end of the season considering they only went 10-22 on the year. There were certainly bright spots this season for the Scarlet Knights highlighted by the home upset over Wisconsin, but it's hard to look at this year as anything other than a disaster. First seasons for teams in a new conference can be challenging, but having a 2-16 conference record, a first round exit in the Big Ten Tournament, and no wins since January 11th is simply unacceptable. Perhaps Eddie Jordan can get things going in the right direction next season, but this year will be one that Rutgers fans will want to forget for a long time.
You can see the full and updated Big Ten Tournament bracket here.