Richard Pitino didn't have a crystal ball to look into the future to see his Gophers basketball team going winless on the road in the first six games away from Williams Arena.
It was tough to see that coming with Pitino returning one of the best point guards in the nation in Marcus Carr, now a top-10 finalist for the Bob Cousy Award.
Pitino also landed one of the top transfers on the market in 7-foot center Liam Robbins, who is a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award.
Going through Carr and Robbins wasn't enough to lead the Gophers to a winning record or even get close to any road victories in the first half of Big Ten play.
Carr and Robbins combined for 34 points to give the Gophers a fighting chance at Rutgers, but what looked like the first road win turned into a third consecutive loss, 76-72 on Thursday night in Piscataway, N.J.
Robbins scored eight of his 16 points during a two-minute stretch in crunch time. Carr had a team-high 18 points and seven assists, but he missed two jumpers in the final minute on isolation plays that sunk any hopes of pulling out the much-needed victory.
"We ran a play that won us a lot of games," Pitino said. "It's been good in the past. It wasn't good there. You've got to give the defense credit. I thought for 37½ minutes, we were terrific."
In a game with 22 lead changes, the Gophers (11-7, 4-7 Big Ten) went ahead five times in the last four minutes, including on Gabe Kalscheur's two free throws to make it 72-71 with 1 minute, 13 seconds to play.
Trying to get their fourth consecutive victory, the Scarlet Knights (11-6, 7-6) got late heroics from senior Geo Baker with a step-back jumper to pull ahead 73-72 with 61 seconds left. Baker scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half.
Carr, who bounced back from a six-point effort in an 81-62 loss last Saturday at Purdue, had one of his best games recently in balancing when to attack and facilitate. But it appeared he tried to do too much down the stretch.
The Toronto native fumbled the ball in the corner while losing his balance after overdribbling with under a minute left. Kalscheur ended up with the loose ball, but the Gophers had to burn a second consecutive timeout.
Pitino looked to his All-Big Ten floor leader again, but Carr's step-back jumper was short with 32 seconds left before Rutgers grabbed the defensive board and guard Ron Harper Jr. made two free throws after being fouled for a 75-72 lead. The Gophers tried to isolate Carr again on the next possession, but his contested three-pointer was well off the mark with 12 seconds left.
"He didn't make them today, but he's made them in the past," Robbins said. "When he has the ball in his hands, our whole team has confidence in him."
The Gophers, who got 10 points apiece from Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Brandon Johnson, had lost their first five road games to Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Purdue were by an average margin of nearly 19 points. All six losses previously were by double digits, so Pitino was proud of how close his team came to knocking off Rutgers.
"I think they're positive," Pitino said about the postgame locker room. "I think they saw we were really good for about 37 minutes. We just had some turnovers. They made some plays, and we took a bad shot. We've grown. We've had seven losses, but six have not look like that."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.