Notebook: Rutgers ceases control of boards, paint in loss to Minnesota
Even as the Rutgers men's basketball team has navigated a rugged Big Ten schedule that saw just two wins in its first 12 tries, the Scarlet Knights have still been able to lean on their firm presence on the boards on most nights.
Entering their home matchup with Minnesota on Saturday, the Knights were leading the conference in both total rebounding (39.9 per game) and offensive rebounding (15.4 per game), while boasting the second best rebounding margin (plus-2.5) through their first 12 Big Ten games.
Even further, Rutgers had finished on the plus side of the rebounding battle in over half its conference games and had landed on the short side of the offensive rebounding battle only twice (in a win over Nebraska Jan. 21 and an overtime loss to Wisconsin Jan. 28).
But when tasked with a relentless pursuit inside from the Golden Gophers on Saturday, the Knights were simply outdone on the boards. Minnesota finished with an advantage in total rebounds (40-34) and matched Rutgers’ output on the offensive glass with 14 rebounds in a 72-63 win over the Knights at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Although the two Big Ten schools finished with an equal number of offensive rebounds, the Golden Gophers were more opportunistic with their second chances, finishing with a lopsided, 20-11 advantage in second chance points.
"Uncharacteristic of us. We rebound. We needed to be plus-10 on the glass tonight," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "That was the number we needed to have. And they obviously did a great job, at halftime they were a plus-10. They out-toughed us to some balls."
With the tallest team in the conference, per KenPom, Minnesota came into the game as the Big Ten's No. 2 rebounding team throughout Big Ten play — trailing Rutgers by just over one rebound per game — and were tied for fifth in offensive rebounds per game.
While the Knights had topped them in both rebounding categories entering the day, the Golden Gophers dominated the glass early and often.
Minnesota converted 10 offensive rebounds into 13 second-chance points and held a plus-10 rebounding advantage over Rutgers at the half, as the Golden Gophers held a 43-34 lead over the Knights.
“The boards really killed us too,” said junior guard Mike Williams. “We’re known for rebounding and we wasn’t really doing that tonight.”
Rutgers cut into that rebounding deficit in the second half by pulling down 10 offensive boards of its own and holding a plus-four advantage in the overall rebounding battle, the Knights couldn't surmount the number of easy buckets it surrendered.
By only committing nine turnovers, Rutgers limited Minnesota from generating any sort of transition game, as the Gophers finished with a measly two fast-break points. In addition to that, Minnesota, an average three-point shooting team, finished just 3 of 17 from beyond the arc.
But while the Gophers couldn't accumulate points in transition nor from deep, they were still able to finish with an impressive 46.7 percent clip from the field on 60 attempts because of their dominance in the paint.
Minnesota finished with 44 points in the paint, 34 of those coming in the first half. Of the Gophers' 28 made field goals, 19 of them came at the rim via a layup or dunk.
"Their guards were getting penetration. They were dishing it off to the bigs. They were getting shots up on the rim and because our bigs had to step up and help, their bigs were able to rebound," said senior center C.J. Gettys. "We gotta have guys track down from the guard position and rebound as well. We were kind of limited with size today. Candido didn't play. That's coach's decision obviously. Deshawn was in and out of the game hurt, he got busted in the mouth."
They seem to be the point of emphasis after each and every close Big Ten loss that the Rutgers men's basketball team has suffered and it's because, with the exception of the Scarlet Knights' six-point loss to Iowa on the road where the free throw line was ultimately a non-factor for them, they have been.
- Eight missed free throws in a nine-point loss to Northwestern.
- 14 missed free throws in a 12-point loss to then-No. 22 Maryland.
- Seven missed free throws in a seven-point overtime loss to then-No. 15 Wisconsin.
- Eight missed free throws in a six-point loss to Ohio State in Columbus.
The Knights added to that infamous list on Saturday, when they connected on just 10 of their 22 attempts from the charity stripe in a nine-point loss to Minnesota.
"We have to make some free throws too," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "That changes the whole tone for the other team. It’s a little tighter. You leave a lot of points on the board, we’re not a great scoring team, so we need to get those free points.”
After trailing by nine at the break, Rutgers remained in striking distance for the entirety of the second half and had its deficit as low as five with under two minutes remaining.
But one of the main reasons the Knights couldn't get any closer than that was their inability to capitalize from the free throw line. Rutgers missed 3 of its 10 attempts from the stripe in the second half, with sophomore guard Corey Sanders accounting for four of those misses.
"That's just been our story this year, the free throw line," Sanders said. "Just gotta be able to step up and knock them down. Just unfortunate that we're not able to right now and that's something that we work on everyday in practice, but when we get in the game it's just like we're not able to muscle them in and that's on us."
Sophomore forward Jonathan Laurent misfired on three of his four attempts at the line, while senior center C.J. Gettys and freshman forward Eugene Omoruyi each missed two of their respective six and four attempts.
With junior guard Mike Williams as the only Knight shooting above a 70 percent clip from the line, Rutgers' Big Ten worst free throw percentage has dipped to 55.1 percent in conference play and 61.6 percent for the season, which ranks fourth-worst in the country.
"People just don’t have the confidence to go up there and knock the free throws down," Williams said. "But it just comes with confidence. We just gotta shoot free throws until our arms fall off, that’s it."