PISCATAWAY, N.J. – This is what bottoming out looks like.
The Gophers men’s basketball team, which had one of the tougher weeks in program history, closed out its regular season Saturday with a blowout loss to Rutgers 75-52, falling to a team that had lost its previous 32 games against Big Ten opponents.
“You know, the guys that played today, it’s not their fault,” coach Richard Pitino said. “It’s next to impossible, right now, with the situation that we were dealt, to score points.”
The Gophers (8-22, 2-16 Big Ten) were severely depleted after three players — guards Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer — were suspended Tuesday for the rest of the season, following an incident that involved the posting of a sex video on social media. That came on top of last month’s dismissal of senior Carlos Morris from the team. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the Gophers’ remaining senior, forward Joey King, suffered a broken foot in Wednesday’s loss to Wisconsin, meaning Minnesota was without five of its top six scorers this season.
Pitino was left with only five available scholarship players on the roster: Jordan Murphy, Charles Buggs, Ahmad Gilbert, Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou.
“We know the situation now; everybody has to step up and try to adjust to the players we have,” Konate said.
The Gophers tried, but they shot only 22-for-73 from the floor (30.1 percent) and 2-for-17 (11.8 percent) from three-point range. They fell behind 21-2, 29-4 and 40-15 in the first half at the Rutgers Athletic Center, making the entire second half nothing more than 20 minutes of garbage time.
Mike Williams scored 29 points as Rutgers (7-24, 1-17) avoided the first winless Big Ten regular-season campaign since Northwestern in 1999-2000.
Buggs and Stephon Sharp each had 13 points for the Gophers, while Konate had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Sharp, the freshman walk-on starting at point guard for the third game in a row, shot 6-for-19 from the floor and had two assists and seven turnovers.
As much as he struggled, Murphy struggled even more, going 3-for-21. He had seven points in 39 minutes.
According to Pitino, the loss of King was the final straw for a team that had just begun to play well before everything fell apart.
“With Joey, we could play small, and when he got hurt, that was the icing on the cake,” Pitino said. “So it’s getting our guys to understand that, just compete, just fight [and] take advantage of the opportunity to play. But there’s a lot of things that are making it extremely challenging to play well, and I feel bad for those guys that are playing, because they’re in a bad spot now, unfortunately.”