A shorthanded Minnesota summoned up a fantastic performance to defeat Rutgers 68-65 at Williams Arena. The Gophers improve to 11-5 on the season and 2-5 in conference play. Payton Willis led all scorers with 32 points in the best performance from a Gopher I remember since Andre Hollins against Memphis back in 2012.
Today was the kind of performance that deserves to be rewarded with a win. Minnesota met the minimum number of scholarship players to play a basketball game today. Jamison Battle, Eric Curry, Will Ramberg, and E.J. Stephens were all unavailable. With injuries to other players, Ben Johnson had a massive challenge to find offensive and defensive sets to break down a good Rutgers’ defense.
On some level, this second conference win was coming. After all, GopherNation predicted a win earlier this week for just that reason. Did I expect that the Gophers would pull this one off today after the injuries ravaged to the team? No. No I did not. Did I think that Minnesota was going to compete hard every possession? Yes. Yes I did. This is an identity defining game for the team this season. Be annoying and compete on every possession.
Payton Willis began the game on a torrid pace, scoring the first five points and dropping a sweet assist to Treyton Thompson for a fast break dunk. In order for Minnesota to be competitive, Willis had to play well. He answered the call in the first half with 14 points, five assists, and three rebounds. As a team, the Gophers also shot the ball well from both inside and outside, making seven threes, including a buzzer beater by Thompson to take a one point lead into the half. Three Gophers played (Willis, Thompson, and Loewe) played the entire first half. They would go on to play the entire game.
Willis continued his astonishing play in the second half. Willis tied the program record with eight threes made, and several of them had no business going in. The Gophers also clamped down on the defensive end, holding Rutgers scoreless for nearly five minutes of game action. That run non withstanding, Rutgers stuck around behind great play by Geo Baker. Sean Sutherlin had the biggest defensive play of the game, baiting Ron Harper Jr. into an offensive foul. Payton Willis made both free throws with two seconds left to seal the game.
Willis also had seven assists. What a game for him.
Luke Loewe was on IVs this morning and then went out and had his best game as a Gopher. The lesson is to stick him with IVs every game. Loewe hit multiple big shots and finished with 19 points on 8-14 shooting. Luke Loewe! 3 of 5 from three! With E.J. Stephens and Battle out, Minnesota needed a second option. Loewe delivered that in spades.
Treyton Thompson has gone in the last two games from never seeing the floor to never leaving it. Thompson had 10 points on 4-7 shooting and six rebounds. At times he looked like a player without much game experience. At other times he looked like a grizzled veteran. Keep him in the lineup.
Charlie Daniels had what I would characterize as his best game of the season, and as zipsofakron mentioned behind the scenes was low key the glue guy. My favorite play of his was a sweet bounce pass to a wide open cutting Thompson for a dunk late in the second half.
Rutgers only had three free throws. The Gophers managed to avoid fouling throughout the game.
Someone get a Tre Demps a tailor.