CHICAGO (AP) — No sooner did Minnesota pass its first test in the Big Ten Tournament than it had payback in mind.
Joey King hit six 3-pointers and scored 20 to lead Minnesota to an 80-68 victory over Rutgers in the first round on Wednesday. The Golden Gophers will meet Ohio State on Thursday. The Buckeyes edged them 74-72 in overtime in January.
“We feel like we let (that) one go,” Minnesota guard Nate Mason said. “All we have to do is play our game and focus on the little things — rebound, play defense — and don’t let them get off to a hot start.”
“There’s really no team that we don’t have confidence against,” King said. “We’ve just go to come out to play our game. That’s when we have success.”
Minnesota (18-14) almost certainly will have to get more out of Andre Hollins to pull off the upset. He was scoreless in 21 minutes and remained 25 points behind Randy Breuer for third place on the team’s career list.
“I wish I had the answer,” head coach Richard Pitino said of the senior guard. “What I don’t like is that he’s not getting to the foul line.”
The 11th-seeded Golden Gophers broke open a tight game on a 22-8 spurt midway through in the second half. King and Charles Buggs highlighted the blitz with three 3-pointers in a span of 53 seconds.
After King extended the lead to 43-38 at the seven-minute mark, Buggs buried another 3-pointer 18 seconds later. Rutgers’ Junior Etou followed with a pair free throws, then King hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 49-40 advantage.
“We showed great will and determination to win that game,” Pitino said. “They came back, cut it to six, then we kind of took that punch and delivered a very good punch right after that.”
Carlos Morris scored 16 points for Minnesota, while Mason added 15 more. DeAndre Mathieu contributed a game-high eight assists off the bench. The Golden Gophers shot 52 percent in the field and scored 42 points in the paint.
Kadeem Jack led Rutgers (10-22) with 18 points. Bishop Daniels and Myles Mack scored 15 points apiece, but the 14th-seeded Scarlet Knights closed their first season in the Big Ten with 15 consecutive losses — 10 by 10-or-more points.
At least the Scarlet Knights left town with a team photo taken in front of the Michael Jordan statue outside the United Center.
“It’s tough in this league,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “There’s no real easy bottom half. I thought we were competitive, we had some chances. We just didn’t have enough. We didn’t have a third scorer, we didn’t have another playmaker.”
The Scarlet Knights converted just 35 percent of their field-goal tries in the first half, but they scored 13 points off eight turnovers to stay in the game.
Rutgers twice led by as many as five points in the first half, the last time at 19-14 on D.J. Foreman’s tip-in at the 11:57 mark.
Turnover-prone Minnesota responded with a 12-4 run to take a 26-21 advantage. Morris had six points in the spurt.
Rutgers pulled even at 26-all on Mack’s 3-pointer with 2:12 left in the half. But King answered with a 3-pointer and Minnesota took a 30-27 lead into the break.
Minnesota: Richard Pitino’s father Rick was among those in the rather sparse crowd. The Louisville head coach watched from a seat behind the bench. “For him to do that, it was great to see,” Richard said. … The Gophers had faced every opponent in their tournament bracket once each in the regular season. They posted a 2-4 record on those games.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost for the fourth time in as many tries against the Gophers in their history. Minnesota scored an 89-80 victory at home in the regular season. … Last year they were eliminated by Rick Pitino’s Louisville team in round two of the ACC Tournament, which prompted Jordan to remark, ” I hope there are no more Pitinos out there.” … Three starters are expected to return next season: sophomore Junior Etou, junior Bishop Daniels and junior C Greg Lewis.
Minnesota: Faces No. 6 seed Ohio State on Thursday.
Rutgers: Season over.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)