#14 Rutgers 65, #11 Minnesota 54
This game somehow got off to a worse start than the Iowa-Illinois game. It took two and a half minutes for either team to get on the board, and after four minutes the teams had combined for a whopping four points. Minnesota came out sluggish and didn’t get on the board until 15:52 in the first half. The team didn’t hit its first shot from the field until nearly halfway through the first half, at the 10:27 mark. Once both teams finally got on the board, though, things picked up, relatively. The teams scored more, but compared to Iowa-Illinois, this was a defensive battle.
Rutgers, which is located just 37 miles from Madison Square Garden, by far the shortest trip of any Big Ten team, benefited from the home-court advantage. Both teams took care of the ball in the first half; the teams combined for only seven turnovers (five for Rutgers, two for Minnesota). At the end of the half, the Scarlet Knights led the Golden Gophers by a score of 34-27 thanks Junior G Corey Sanders’ 15 points on 6-11 shooting and 5 rebounds. For Minnesota, Bronx native G Isaiah Washington showed out for his home crowd in the first half by going 3-5 from the field with 8 points including a couple of circus shots.
In the early and middle stages of the second half Rutgers led by as much as eight and as little as two, but they led wire-to-wire. Some unwise fouls by Minnesota at the end of the contest helped put the Scarlet Knights up by their eventual margin of victory, 11 points. The aforementioned Washington led all scorers with 10 points in the second half, but it was Rutgers star Corey Sanders who led the game in scoring with 23 points on 9-20 shooting. Rutgers won the rebounding battle; they out-rebounded Minnesota by 19 (47-28), including 15 offensive rebounds. Both teams shot under 40% from the field and it was the Scarlet Knights who edged the Golden Gophers in shooting percentage (39.3-35.3).
This Rutgers team demonstrated grit in their upset victory over Minnesota and they backed it up with their comments in the postgame press conference. Corey Sanders, after his standout performance, said of Rutgers’ seed in the conference tournament: “That 14 [seed] certainly doesn't represent the type of team we are. We play hard every game. Sometimes the result isn't what we want it to be. But we're going to fight and play hard against anybody that we get. The number really doesn't matter.”
Teammate Mike Williams added, “Definitely, the number doesn't matter. In our case, it's March Madness. Anything can happen. That's why this is the best league, the best kind of basketball in the world. Even the little guys who is No. 14 can upset somebody. We don't really worry about the number. We just go out and play hard every day.”
Coach Steve Pikiell looked ahead toward the game against Indiana in the postgame presser: “They have matchup problems. They play tremendously hard. They have matchup problems for us. We have a day. We have a lot of time to prepare. Our guys will sleep tonight. And then we'll get ready for a good Indiana team tomorrow.”
Rutgers, after pulling off the upset against Minnesota, takes on #6 Indiana in the nightcap on Thursday.
Corey Sanders, G, Rutgers (23 points, 7 rebounds, 9-20 FG)
Deshawn Freeman, F, Rutgers (5 points, 10 rebounds)
Isaiah Washington, G, Minnesota (18 points, 6-12 FG)
Photo Credit: Bob Karp/Associated Press