PISCATAWAY, N.J. – What a difference a year makes for the Gophers.
Last season at this time, coach Rick Pitino’s team was floundering on the way to an 8-23 record, including an embarrassing, blowout loss at Rutgers, which was 0-17 in Big Ten play entering the game.
On Saturday, the Gophers added to their NCAA tournament résumé by posting their fourth Big Ten road victory of the season, knocking off Rutgers 72-63 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
“Last year was a challenging end,” Pitino said. “We had been playing well and had beaten a top-five Maryland team, Rutgers and then had to suspend guys and Joey King got hurt.
“It was impossible to win. That was really tough. I remember walking in here and going, ‘This brings back bad memories.’ Now that we are at full strength, we are a pretty good team. And I think we can continue to get better. After 25 games, I love where we sit.”
Jordan Murphy recorded his second consecutive double-double, finishing with 17 points with 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2 minutes, 28 seconds left and the Gophers leading 68-61.
Minnesota (18-7, 6-6 Big Ten) put together its second strong rebounding effort in as many games. The Gophers outrebounded Rutgers, which ranks fifth nationally in that category, 40-34, getting 20 second-chance points.
Rutgers (13-13, 2-12) led for only 18 seconds, early in the game.
Pitino’s squad out-rebounded Iowa 53-49 in a 101-89 double-overtime win Wednesday when Murphy scored 25 points and grabbed 19 rebounds.
“In this league — and we looked up the numbers — statistically if you want to finish in the top five, you better be in the top half in rebounding,” Pitino said. “That’s the way you win in this league. Some other things may not go your way, but you can always rebound the ball.”
The Gophers have won three consecutive games after dropping five in a row. Nate Mason added 16 points and five assists, Amir Coffey contributed 12 points and five assists, and Eric Curry added 11 points off the bench, shooting 5-for-5 from the floor.
“We are proud of our guys to get our fourth road win in conference,” Pitino said. “It is very challenging in this league. Three [wins] in a row is obviously challenging. And we are playing our best basketball, and it is most important to do that in February. Guys are making winning plays.”
It was evident early on that Pitino stressed aggressiveness on the glass.
“We came in knowing they were a really good offensive rebounding team,” Murphy said of Rutgers. “Coach emphasized that [DeShawn] Freeman and [C.J.] Gettys really like to crash the boards, so we made a conscious effort to rebound.”
Though Gettys and Mike Williams led Rutgers with 14 points each, Gettys and Freeman combined for only 10 rebounds.
The Gophers used a late surge in the first half to lead 43-34 at halftime, and they led by double digits for much of the second half. A layup from Coffey provided the Gophers with a 66-56 edge, but the Scarlet Knights came back with a 5-0 run to cut the lead to 66-61 with 3:48 to play.
Mason’s layup with 3:29 remaining moved the Gophers’ lead to 68-61. Rutgers went 2:11 after that without a basket.
• Isaiah Washington, a point guard out of St. Raymond High School for Boys in New York who has signed with the Gophers, attended Saturday’s game.
“Just watching all the guys playing together and being happy on the court with one another is a great experience,” Washington said. “Everybody is one big family. They just want to push you to the next level.”