On Saturday morning, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Rutgers Scarlet Knights kicked off the weekend’s Big Ten play in Piscataway, New Jersey.
The matchup was of the utmost importance to Minnesota (18-7, Big Ten 6-6), not in that a victory over Rutgers (2-11, Big Ten 13-13) would boost its resume very much, but, rather, that a loss would impair its NCAA Tournament aspirations.
In opening moments of the first half, neither team managed to find much breathing room. However, Minnesota pulled away in the closing minutes, entering the half up 43-34. In the second, Minnesota continued to build off its momentum, holding the lead throughout the entirety of the half. Despite Rutgers’ valiant efforts down the stretch, Minnesota was able to pick up its sixth conference win this year, 72-63.
Let’s see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned:
1. Minnesota Can Produce In The Paint.
In the first half against the Scarlet Knights, the Golden Gophers were able to generate a surplus of opportunities down low. Out of Minnesota’s 43 first half points, 34 of them were scored in the paint. In just about every opportunity the Golden Gophers were presented with, the lane was wide open for players to finish at the rim. As a result, sophomore forward Jordan Murphy ended the half with 15 points, while freshman guard Amir Coffey contributed 10.
Minnesota concluded the afternoon with 44 points in the paint, as four players notched double figures. The scoring was highlighted by Murphy’s 17-point and 11-rebound double-double. If the Golden Gophers can continue to get in the paint and produce, they should be able to add a few more victories to their résumé.
2. Fast Break Points Are Key For Rutgers.
Despite Saturday’s loss, one factor of Rutgers’ play that helped provide the team with numerous scoring opportunities, was its fast break points. Out of Rutgers’ 34 points in the first half, 10 of them came from fast breaks. In comparison, Minnesota was unable to score a single fast break point in the first half. Rutgers ended the game with 16 fast break points, while also capitalizing on Minnesota’s turnovers.
The Scarlet Knights were able to rack up 13 points off of the Golden Gophers’ 11 turnovers. Rutgers’ ability to make the most out of its scoring opportunities is something that will continue to benefit the Scarlet Knights in future games. Although Rutgers is clearly still a work in progress, it can look to build off of its energetic play.
3. Rutgers Needs Corey Sanders In Order To Find Success.
Rutgers’ leading scorer this season, sophomore guard Corey Sanders, has been a vital piece to the team’s success throughout this season. However, in his outing against Minnesota, the promising young guard came up a bit short. Sanders went without a field goal throughout a majority of the first half. He failed to connect on any of his shot attempts until the final minute of the first, where he scored Rutgers’ final four points.
In the second, Sanders started to get things going, but was unable to propel his team to victory. He finished the night with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists. In order for Rutgers to get important wins, it starts with Sanders.
The Scarlet Knights need Sanders to produce throughout the entirety of the game if they expect to compete with the elite teams in the conference. While Rutgers has a surplus of improvements to make, Sanders is one bright spot that the Scarlet Knights can look to build off of against future opponents.
Minnesota will look to keep its win streak alive against Indiana, as Rutgers prepares for No. 16 ranked Purdue. Minnesota’s postseason will continue to look bright, should they continue to win. Although Rutgers sits at the bottom of the conference, it must continue to make improvements where it can and finish Big Ten play strong.