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The state of Gophers men's basketball was much different in 2017, the last time the program won at Rutgers.

Richard Pitino experienced the best season during his eight-year tenure, including an eight-game win streak in the Big Ten that solidified his first NCAA tournament appearance.

Six years later, former Pitino assistant Ben Johnson has the Gophers program in extreme rebuilding mode in his second season. A sixth consecutive loss came Wednesday night after falling 90-55 against the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, N.J.

It was the largest margin of victory in Big Ten play for the Scarlet Knights since they joined in 2014. The last time the Gophers suffered a wider margin of defeat was a 36-point loss at Indiana in 2001.

"We'll do some self-reflecting for sure," Johnson said in the postgame radio show. "We have to hold each other more accountable. That's us as a staff. It's those guys as players. We all have to hold each other to a higher standard."

The Gophers (7-14, 1-10 Big Ten) are on their longest losing streak since Pitino lost seven consecutive Big Ten games before he was fired after the 2020-21 season. Coincidentally, Pitino's final home game with Minnesota's program was an overtime loss vs. Rutgers.

Dawson Garcia, the U's leading scorer and rebounder, missed his third consecutive game Wednesday because of a bone bruise. In Garcia's absence, Joshua Ola-Joseph had a career-high 17 points and eight rebounds, but the Gophers allowed Rutgers to shoot 60% from the field, score 46 points in the paint and set a school record with 30 assists.

Entering Wednesday, Johnson talked about his admiration for how Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell built his program from the bottom up. The Scarlet Knights (15-7, 7-4) went from back-to-back last-place finishes in the Big Ten to now on pace for a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance in Pikiell's seventh season.

"I'm not a big ceiling guy," Pikiell told local reporters after the game. "These guys have been great. They're fun to coach and are talented. We'll see where that takes us this year."

Unable to recruit like the upper-echelon programs in the Big Ten, Pikiell said he searched for players who fit Rutgers' tough and hard-nosed defensive identity. His success has turned the Scarlet Knights into the conference's No. 1 defensive team this season.

Johnson's Gophers have been on the opposite end of the defensive spectrum. In the past two games, Northwestern and Rutgers combined for 171 points on 56% shooting (68-for-122), including 48% from three-point range (19-for-40).

“We have to hold each other more accountable. That's us as a staff. It's those guys as players. We all have to hold each other to a higher standard.”
Ben Johnson

Rutgers led 18-7 to open the game Wednesday with the Gophers settling for too many outside shots.

Jamison Battle, who finished with 13 points, scored his first basket to ignite a 13-4 run in the first half. His baseline jumper cut it to 22-20, but Rutgers eventually saw its confidence explode offensively with little resistance.

In the second half, the Scarlet Knights outscored the Gophers 56-31 on 66% shooting, including 7-for-10 from three-point range. They had six players finish in double figures, led by Cam Spencer's 17 points.

Without Garcia in the rotation, the Gophers played only eight scholarship players, including three freshmen, a sophomore, and a former walk-on. Nobody logging minutes had ever played at Rutgers before Wednesday night. They competed with only seven scholarship players to fall 61-57 to Indiana at home last week.

But in Saturday's 81-61 loss at Northwestern, the Gophers were competitive only briefly in the first half before they fell apart. Johnson has tried masking weaknesses defensively by using a 2-3 zone, but his team has still been exploited, especially in the middle.

The Gophers, who play host to Maryland on Saturday, had another abysmal shooting night, going 36% from the field, including 5-for-25 from long distance. They also committed 15 turnovers.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.