PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell doesn’t want to talk about his team potentially being ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in over four decades.
Caleb McConnell had 10 points and 12 rebounds as Rutgers used a balanced team effort in a 64-56 win over Minnesota on Sunday to continue the program’s best start in the Big Ten, and possibly gain an AP Top 25 ranking for the first time since 1979.
“Nope, no thoughts,” Pikiell said when asked about a potential ranking, before adding, “we were picked 12th in the league and that’s where we were picked.”
After starting 1 of 10 from the field and letting Minnesota go 4 of 5, Pikiell called a timeout 3 1/2 minutes into the game and his team down 10-2. Whatever was said in the huddle sparked a turnaround.
Montez Mathis (11 points on 4-of-6 shooting) hit back-to-back 3s then a layup and the foul shot that followed before Jacob Young capped an 11-0 run for Rutgers to make it 13-10.
“We started off and got punched in the face and we had to get back up,” Myles Johnson said. “Tez’s energy — the three straight baskets, his defensive energy that he had to bring it to them and then we went on that run and I think he really just brought us into the game.”
Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu made a couple free throws before Rutgers went on another 6-0 run to make it 19-12 midway through the half. Rutgers made it 23-15 with 6:26 to go before going into the break with a 34-25 lead.
Rutgers (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten) built its lead to start the second half, ballooning it to 14 on a few occasions. Minnesota (10-8, 4-4 Big Ten) cut the lead to seven three times after that but that’s the closest the Golden Gophers got.
Oturu, who came into the game ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring (20.3) and leads the conference and is fifth nationally in rebounding (12.1), was held to just two points on 0-of-6 shooting and two rebounds in the first half. With 11 double-doubles on the seasons, he finished the game with 19 points going 6 of 16 from the field with nine rebounds.
“Daniel needed to be more physical down low to demand the ball,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “He was better in the second half, but they’re big. They’re a really big, physical team and one of the best defensive teams in the country.”
Payton Willis had 12 points for Minnesota.
Johnson added seven points and 10 rebounds for Rutgers, while Ron Harper Jr. and Jacob Young had 11 points each.
“It could be anyone’s night at any time,” McConnell said. “I think that’s what makes this team so special.”
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers drop back to .500 in the conference and are in the midst of one of their toughest stretches. This was the first of a four-game stretch that includes just one home matchup against No. 15 Michigan State next Sunday.
Rutgers: The upstart Scarlet Knights are now winners of eight of their last nine and 13-0 at home. Three games over .500 for the first time since the start of the 1998-99 Big East season where Rutgers went 9-5, the program could crack the Top 25 this week after receiving eight votes in last week’s poll and going 2-0 this week.
Rutgers outrebounded Minnesota 45-35, pulling down 20 offensive rebounds, with 15 in the first half, while Minnesota had 13.
“Give Rutgers credit. They absolutely manhandled us on the offensive glass,” Pitino said. “You can’t win on the road, home, anywhere when you give up 20 offensive rebounds.”
250 Ws and .500
Pikiell recorded his 250th win as a head coach and now is .500 at Rutgers as the fourth-year coach is 58-58 in Piscataway while trying to rebuild a downtrodden program.
Rutgers: At Iowa on Wednesday.
Minnesota: At No. 21 Ohio State on Thursday.