Rutgers comes up short in 89-67 Big Ten opener against No. 12 Minnesota
Freshman Doucoure leads Knights in scoring with career-high 13 points
Most teams that have come up against No. 12 Minnesota this season have had to deal with the question of handling Jordan Murphy.
The Rutgers men's basketball team traveled west to Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers (8-1, 1-0) Sunday night, and the Scarlet Knights (6-2, 0-1) had that same dilemma multiplied by three.
Murphy, along with teammates Reggie Lynch and Nate Mason, carried Minnesota to a 89-67 win over Rutgers, once again furthering his early case for Big Ten Player of the Year, putting up 18 points and 16 rebounds in the home side's victory.
For the Knights, Sunday's matchup was an affirmation that they know how to prepare for teams above their stature. The visitors held their first conference opponent and ranked opponent of the season within 10 points at the end of the first half, keeping steady with the Gophers for the most part.
Of the different battles Rutgers was to face coming into Sunday, the one the team could control in its entirety was its preparation. Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton lauded the Knights' preparation going into last week's fixture against his Seminoles, and when asked about the upcoming Minnesota matchup, head coach Steve Pikiell maintained that if anything, the team would not be lacking in preparation.
Rutgers absolutely came prepared for the Gophers physically — stealing inbound passes, chasing after loose balls, grabbing offensive rebounds — but the team didn't show up where it most counts, in the points column.
Though the Knights recovered somewhat from the field in the second half, they still shot 33 percent (24-of-74) overall, a mark far too low to compete with a side like Minnesota.
Junior guard Corey Sanders took by far the most shots out of any Rutgers player, putting up 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting. The Florida native also did his part in energizing and facilitating the offense, collecting four assists along with four rebounds.
Rebounds, like most games this season, are where the Knights excelled in Sunday night, especially on the offensive end. Rutgers posted 17 offensive rebounds against the Gophers' 11, despite being edged out on the boards overall, 46-43.
Leading the charge on offensive rebounds for the Knights was freshman center Mamadou Doucoure, with six of his nine rebounds coming on the offensive side of the ball. Doucoure recorded his career-high in points as well, scoring 13 points and going 3-of-4 from the line. It was somewhat of a breakout game for the 6-foot-9-inch Malian, who had yet to score more than 8 points in a game until Sunday.
Still, it was a matter of being unable to contain the Gophers Sunday night, with Murphy, Lynch and Mason combining for 60 of the team's 89 points.
Although Rutgers matched up with Minnesota physically, its next test — and its greatest of the season — comes in the form of No. 3 Michigan State on Tuesday, where preparation is less of a guarantee. It's a two-day turnaround from playing the second best team in the Big Ten to the best team in the Big Ten, and it is about as unforgiving a schedule the Knights are going to get all season.
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