Rutgers and host Minnesota couldn’t be in more different frames of mind going into their Big Ten contest on Thursday in Minneapolis.
The Scarlet Knights come with a big burden lifted off their shoulders following a 59-56 win at Penn State on Sunday. Rutgers rallied from a 19-point deficit and won for just the second time over it last six games.
A loss to Penn State might have sounded some alarm about Rutgers’ validity as an NCAA Tournament team, but it instead seemed to have restored some momentum going into its last two games of the regular season.
Rutgers (18-11, 10-8 Big Ten) will play its fifth road game in its last seven contests.
“You just have to fight through the grind of the season, the grind of great coaches and the grind of great players on the other side,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said.
One revelation for Rutgers against Penn State might have been the play of freshman point guard Derek Simpson. He came off of the bench to score 16 points and provided what turned out to be the game-winning three-point play with more than a minute left.
“We need him to be this kind of player,” Pikiell said.
Rutgers will try and sweep the regular-season series with Minnesota after routing the Golden Gophers at home on Feb. 1, 90-55.
In a Big Ten that’s been defined by parity and unpredictability, Minnesota has been the one dubious constant — the Golden Gophers have been the conference’s bottom-feeder all year.
The Golden Gophers (7-20, 1-16) have lost 12 games in a row and haven’t won at home in league play.
Minnesota does have two players averaging in double figures — Dawson Garcia (15.3 points per game) and Jamison Battle (12.9) — but turnovers and depth have been major issues.
“You have to be detail-oriented and when you can smell blood, you have to be able to make the next right play, whether that’s a stop or execution offensively,” Minnesota coach Ben Johnson said.
–Field Level Media