PISCATAWAY, N.J. – With 5.2 seconds to play and his team down three points at Rutgers, Jordan Murphy stepped to the foul line with a chance to tie an important game for the Gophers’ NCAA tournament hopes.
Murphy, one of the best players in program history, could only watch in disappointment as his first foul shot caught only air.
He made the second free throw, but Minnesota couldn’t get the rebound after he missed the next one on purpose.
Geo Baker’s three-pointer with just under a minute to play and two free throws with 15.2 seconds left sunk to the Gophers’ sixth straight road loss Sunday. They fell 68-64 to Rutgers in front of an announced 7,270 at Rutgers Athletic Center.
It was night that summed up just how frustrating many road games have been at the end for Richard Pitino’s team.
The Gophers (17-11, 7-10 Big Ten) are 1-8 on the road and have lost six straight away from home since winning at Wisconsin on Jan. 3.
To get to an NCAA tournament at-large bid, the Gophers might need to win all three of their remaining regular-season games: at Northwestern, Purdue at home and at Maryland.
“One at a time,” Pitino said. “That’s all you can do. Don’t look ahead. Still so many good opportunities in front of us. That’s what you got to do. You can’t start thinking about ‘what ifs.’ You just got to go see if you can steal a road win.”
Montez Mathis had 18 points for the Scarlet Knights (13-14, 6-11), who scored 18 points off turnovers and had 38 points in the paint.
Freshmen Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu were the only Minnesota players in double figures, combining for 41 points on 14-for-20 shooting. Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer had just 23 points on 9-for-31 shooting.
“We just have to finish the season strong,” Oturu said. “We have to play smart in the end, bring the energy from the beginning, so we can close out games like this.”
Kalscheur had 21 points and was 6-for-6 on threes after a five-point performance in a loss Thursday vs. No. 7 Michigan. Minnesota trailed 18-10 when he hit his second three-pointer of the game to ignite a 15-2 run. Minnesota led 38-27 at halftime after a fifth three.
After shooting just 1-for-10 from beyond the arc against the Wolverines, the Gophers were 8-for-15 Sunday, but just 2-for-5 in the second half.
Oturu’s basket to start the second half gave the Gophers their biggest lead of the game at 37-28, but Rutgers rallied by scoring off its defense.
Minnesota had only four turnovers in the first half, but nine more in the second half turned the momentum over to the home team.
Eugene Omoruyi, who was injured when the Scarlet Knights fell 88-70 in Minneapolis on Jan. 12, scored back-to-back baskets for a 16-6 run to put his team ahead for the first time in the second half.
Mathis dunked off a steal to give Rutgers a 48-45 lead with under nine minutes to play.
McBrayer’s three-pointer and layup from Murphy capped a 12-4 Minnesota run for a 57-52 lead, but the lead changed for the 12th time with under a minute to play on Baker’s big three.
It wasn’t the first time the Gophers had seen a second-half lead evaporate in a road loss. They were up 13 points before going into an offensive funk and falling at Purdue. They lost on a buzzer-beater at Michigan after leading by seven. And there was the hard-to-swallow one-point loss at Nebraska after a questionable foul with 1.1 seconds left.
“We just need to keep playing for us and for our team,” Kalscheur said. “We need to keep our heads up and keep fighting for one another.”