MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Golden Gophers had just picked up their second straight Big Ten win after a miserable 0-13 start to the conference season, but there was no wild celebration like their previous victory over Maryland last week.
The prevailing feeling in the locker room was one of relief, because nobody wants to be the first Big Ten team to lose to Rutgers.
Jordan Murphy had 19 points and 14 rebounds and Minnesota dropped Rutgers to 0-15 in the Big Ten with an 83-61 victory on Tuesday night.
Joey King had 15 points and seven rebounds and Dupree McBrayer had 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Gophers (8-19, 2-13), who have won back-to-back games for the first time since November.
“Knowing this was a winnable game for us, we didn’t want to come and lay an egg out here and lose this game,” McBrayer said.
D.J. Foreman had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Bishop Daniels scored 12 points for Rutgers (6-22). The Scarlet Knights turned it over 21 times and have lost 30 straight Big Ten games.
“If we lose on the court, we have to keep our dignity, because that’s all we have at the end of the day,” Foreman said. “Even with the losses coming in, we know we’re young, injured, so it’s not like we’re just stinking it up. We have a lot of weaknesses.”
As expected, a game featuring two teams with a combined 1-27 conference record wasn’t pretty. They combined for 35 turnovers and 20 missed free throws.
The Gophers opened the second half with a 25-7 burst to put the game away.
Corey Sanders missed the third game of a four-game suspension and some key injuries left Rutgers with only seven scholarship players available. That prompted Vegas odds makers to list the Scarlet Knights as 12½-point underdogs to a team that lost its first 13 games of the Big Ten season. Sanders is the team’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game and one of the few players on the roster who has proven he belongs, from a skill standpoint, in the Big Ten.
As crazy as it sounds for a Gophers team that went two months between victories, it sure looked like they came into the game taking this one for granted. The one area they have excelled in this season is taking care of the ball, averaging just over 10 turnovers per game. But they had 10 in the first half alone and gave Rutgers free drives to the lane over and over to fall behind by nine points midway through the period.
“It didn’t look like we were into it,” Murphy said. “We were just flat.”
After Daniels threw down a thunderous dunk over big man Bakary Konat, the Gophers seemed to wake up. They responded with a 14-3 run to take the lead and then pulled away in the second half.
“They still have life to live,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. “They’ve got to get their work done in school. I told them I didn’t want any red flags as far as being late for class or tutoring or missing anything. That’s part of this whole thing, as anything else. We always turn our attention to when things don’t go well on the court, make sure they go well off the court.”
Jordan said he hopes to get both 6-foot-9 center Greg Lewis and 6-10 center Ibrahima Diallo back for Northwestern on Saturday.
“Have them on Saturday and it gives us some size,” he said.
Two straight wins have the Gophers feeling a sudden sense of momentum, with games at Illinois, against Wisconsin and at Rutgers to finish off the regular season.
“I think we’re just getting started,” McBrayer said. “I think we’re going to go on a run going into the Big Ten tournament.”
Rutgers: F Jonathan Laurent had 37 points in his previous two games to emerge as a capable scorer in Sanders’ absence. But he was held scoreless in the first half and finished with eight points. … The Knights shot 40 percent but did make 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
Minnesota: Nate Mason scored 13 points. … Kevin Dorsey had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Rutgers: Visits Northwestern on Saturday.
Minnesota: Visits Illinois on Sunday.
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