PISCATAWAY -- Reflecting on a schedule that resulted in Rutgers playing in 10 of its last 14 games away from the RAC, Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell was looking forward to some proverbial home cooking.
"We've been on the road all year and now we have four of the next six at home and, whew, thank God, (because) our rims (and) we shoot better here and hopefully our fans will come out and pack the place,'' Pikiell said on the eve of the Scarlet Knights' meeting with Minnesota on Saturday.
The Rutgers fans obliged, with the crowd of 6,008 delivering energy throughout the Big Ten contest. As for the rims, they were decidedly friendlier to the opposing team.
Jordan Murphy led four Minnesota players in double figures with 17 points and Nate Mason scored 16 as the Golden Gophers (17-7, 6-6 Big Ten) exited with a 72-63 triumph at the RAC.
C.J. Gettys and Mike Williams scored 14 apiece for Rutgers, which fell to 13-13 overall and 2-11 in Big Ten play.
The difference was evident on the offensive end, as Minnesota overcame 3-for-17 3-point shooting by converting 58.1 percent inside the arc and making 13 of 15 from the free throw line.
Rutgers shot 41.7 percent from the floor (including 35.3 percent in the second half), converted just three of its 14 3-pointers and, once again, the league's worst free throw shooting team had a dreadful showing (10-for-22) from the line.
"We have to make some free throws,'' Pikiell said afterwards. "I mean, we have to make some free throws. It changes the whole tone for the other team. Shots are a little tighter. And we go to the free throw line, 3 out of 10 in the second half (and) two (missed) one-on-ones, too. So we left a lot of points on the line. And we're not a great scoring team, so we need to get those free points in any way possible.''
Rutgers fell behind 9-2 before the three-minute mark, but three fast-break baskets helped the Scarlet Knights tie it. Mike Williams' layup gave Rutgers a 14-13 advantage, but Jordan Murphy responded with a basket at the other end and the Golden Gophers didn't relinquish the lead over the final 31 minutes.
Rutgers entered action as the Big Ten's fourth-best rebounding team, while Minnesota ranked 11th. But the Golden Gophers dominated the inside in every facet, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 44-38 in points-in-the-paint and holding a 40-34 rebounding edge.
Minnesota extended its 43-34 halftime lead to 12 thanks to consecutive 3-pointers by Nate Mason, but Williams followed a Corey Sanders runner with a fast-break layup to cut it to 49-43 with 14:33 to play.
Rutgers again cut the deficit to six points behind a Jonathan Laurent layup with 11:24 to play.
Minnesota pushed its lead back up to 10 with 4:38 to play, but Nigel Johnson's layup was followed by a Williams 3-pointer as the Scarlet Knights cut the deficit in half with 3:48 left.
C.J. Gettys' tip-in pulled Rutgers within 68-63 with just under two minutes left and, following a Minnesota miss, Johnson had a chance to cut the deficit to two points. But the fourth-year junior's 3-pointer bounced off the rim, and Rutgers couldn't get any closer.
"I thought he was going to make it,'' Williams said. "I believe in Nigel. He can shoot the ball, and I really felt like he was going to make it.''
Minnesota held Rutgers scoreless over the game's final 1:44, and proved clutch as Mason and Dupree McBrayer converted all four of their free throws over the final 34 seconds.
"Great win for us,'' Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "I have a lot of respect for the job Steve's doing and I know he'll get this thing turned around. We're proud of our guys. To get our fourth road win is very challenging in this league -- three in a row is obviously very challenging -- and we're playing our best basketball and ... guys are making winning plays.''
While Gettys added a team-high eight rebounds to go along with his 14 points, Sanders finished with 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting and added five assists.
"I don't know what it is about that free throw line that we're not able to muscle them in,'' Sanders said. "I missed four myself. So just a couple of free throws down the stretch would really help us out. But unfortunately it wasn't falling for us.''
Pork roll or Taylor ham? Rutgers settles debate
Because I know Rutgers fans were anxiously awaiting the result: Pork Roll routs Taylor Hall, 61% to 39% in the fans vote.-- Keith Sargeant (@KSargeantNJ) February 11, 2017
Keith Sargeant may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KSargeantNJ. Find NJ.com Rutgers Football on Facebook.
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