PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Eight days ago, Geo Baker hit what looked like was going to be the winning 3-pointer in a major upset for Rutgers over No. 21 Iowa. Then Joe Wieskamp banked in an unbelievable 3 from the corner with less than a second to play to turn the game into a heartbreaking home loss.
On Sunday night against Minnesota, Baker nailed a 3-pointer from the same spot at the top of the arc in the waning moments of the game. Fortunately for Baker and the Scarlet Knights, it wasn’t complete deja vu.
“The end-game results were a bit better this time,” Baker said with a wry smile.
Montez Mathis had 18 points while Eugene Omoruyi had 14 points and nine rebounds to lead Rutgers past the Golden Gophers 68-64 Sunday night.
Baker made a layup and then hit the afore-mentioned 3-pointer to give Rutgers a 64-61 lead with 57 seconds left. With the departure of star guard Corey Sanders after last season, Baker has assimilated nicely into the role of the go-to guy for Rutgers in the crucial moments. And despite struggling in the first half while scoring just three points, the sophomore didn’t shy away from leading his team to victory down the stretch.
“Confidence comes from repetition and trust,” Baker said. “I put in the reps and my teammates and my coach trust me. So it makes me feel real confident. It feels normal.”
Daniel Oturu answered with a dunk, but Baker and Caleb McConnell combined to make 4-of-4 free throws in the final 15 seconds to seal it.
After Minnesota (17-11, 7-10 Big Ten) scored the first bucket of the second half to take its largest lead of the game, Rutgers (13-14, 6-11) went on a 9-0 run capped by a fast break layup by Mathis assisted by Baker to make it 37-all with 16:13 to go.
“Halftime I got after them pretty good,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “And they came out and responded in the second half and got a great win for us.”
There were six ties and 10 lead changes from there, the last of which came on Baker’s 3. The Scarlet Knights went 3 of 3 from the field and 5 of 6 from the free-throw line in the final three minutes. Minnesota missed 3 of 4 from the stripe and in the last 43 seconds.
Gabe Kalscheur hit all his six 3-point shots and scored 21 points, while Daniel Oturu had 20 points and eight rebounds, for Minnesota. Kalscheur and Oturu each made 7 of 10 from the field while the rest of the Golden Gophers shot just 37.8 percent (9 of 34) as big men Jordan Murphy (nine points on 3-of-10 shooting) and Amir Coffey (eight points on 4-of-12 shooting) were each held well below their average of 15.1 and 14.9 points per game, respectively.
“They’re so physical. They’re just so big. They’re really big and really long. They just beat you up,” Richard Pitino said. “I thought they did a great job, especially on (Jordan) Murphy.”
The Scarlet Knights outscored the Golden Gophers 18-0 in bench points.
“I trust all of them and they were all ready to play today and I do think that does help you at this time. It’s a grind — especially at the end, it helps you to have depth,” Pikiell said. “Depth that you trust.”
Minnesota: A once-promising seasons has hit a rough patch for the Golden Gophers as they have now lost six of their last seven. They’ll have to get back on the right track in the final couple weeks of the season or hope of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid could slip away.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are a win away from getting back to .500 as they continue to show marked improvement in coach Steve Pikiell’s third season at the helm. Rutgers’ six Big Ten wins this season match its total in the first two years combined under Pikiell.
Minnesota: At Northwestern on Thursday.
Rutgers: At No. 21 Iowa Saturday.