In its final game of the regular season, the Rutgers men’s basketball team will travel to Minneapolis on Saturday to face Minnesota. This weekend’s matchup is an opportunity for the Scarlet Knights (13-10, 9-10) to reach double-digit conference wins for the second consecutive season.
Rutgers is coming into Saturday’s game off a 72-51 loss on Monday to Nebraska. In the loss, senior guard Jacob Young and junior guard Ron Harper Jr. were the only Knights to break double-digit scoring, while the team shot just 38.6 percent from the field. Freshman center Clifford Omoruyi led Rutgers in rebounding, collecting eight in the game.
“We thought we had our two best practices going into this game. I thought our guys were locked in. And we certainly didn't play that way … We got to be a lot better, obviously,” said head men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell after the game. “We (have) four days to get ready for Minnesota and Senior Night.”
With the regular season coming to a close, Harper Jr. continues to lead the Knights in scoring averaging 15.5 points per game (PPG), while junior center Myles Johnson remains the team-leader in rebounding, hauling in 8.3 rebounds per game. Johnson also averages 2.6 blocks per game, which is second-best in the Big Ten.
For the Golden Gophers (13-13, 6-13), Saturday’s game is a chance to snap a six-game losing streak which was extended Wednesday night in an 84-65 loss against Penn State. The team’s leading scorer this season is Marcus Carr, who averages 20.1 PPG, third-best in the Big Ten.
In the first matchup between the two teams this season, Rutgers defeated Minnesota in a narrow 76-72 victory, with 16 points from senior guard Geo Baker and a game-high 12 rebounds from Johnson. A win Saturday would give the Knights their sixth victory over the Gophers, the most for Rutgers over any team in the Big Ten since joining the conference in the 2014-15 season, according to Rutgers Athletics.
“We kept grinding. We kept fighting through it,” Pikiell said after the Feb. 4 win over Minnesota. “I was real proud. They never flinched. At every timeout, at every huddle, they were together (saying) 'we got this, we got this.'"
After this weekend’s game, the Knights will embark to Indianapolis to compete in the Big Ten Tournament, which is set to begin next Wednesday. Following the conclusion of the Big Ten Tournament on March 14, Rutgers will hope to hear its name called as part of the 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket. In the most recent bracket projections, the Knights are slotted as a nine seed in the field.
“This is my first go-around trying to get into the (NCAA Tournament) too,” Baker said after Wednesday’s game. “What I do know is that we have ... one regular-season game left, and we got one Big Ten Tournament game left, at least, and we have to handle business.”
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