Gophers haunted by poor 3-point shooting
Minnesota hopes to be better from field vs. Michigan State
MINNEAPOLIS — One extended offensive possession during the Minnesota men’s basketball team’s 56-51 loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday has begun to sum up their season.
Trailing 45-41, Minnesota had three good chances to make it a one-score, or even a one-point game, against the rival Badgers with five minutes left at Williams Arena. They couldn’t cash in.
Gabe Kalscheur missed his second free throw, but Jordan Murphy grabbed an offensive rebound. Kalscheur’s follow-up 3-pointer on the left side was off, but Murphy secured a second offensive board.
Finally, Dupree McBrayer missed another three on the right, and the Badgers finally beat Murphy to the rebound.
The Gophers’ poor shooting, especially from the 3-point line, presents the danger of Minnesota squandering the continued record-breaking brilliance Murphy has provided in the final games of his senior season.
Already leading the Big Ten in rebounding at 12.1 per game, Murphy had 19 rebounds Wednesday to go with a team-high 16 points.
On Thursday, he was among 10 players on the watch list for the Karl Malone Award given to the best power forward in the nation.
Earlier this season, he moved up to second all time on the Big Ten rebounding list and currently has 1,189 in his four years at Minnesota.
But on Wednesday, the Gophers went 1 for 13 from 3-point range against the Badgers, and that 7.7 percent shooting sank their already Big Ten-worst mark to 30.4 percent. On the season, they rank 325th out of 351 Division I programs behind the arc.
The Gophers (16-7, 6-6 Big Ten) hope to warm up from deep and end a two-game losing streak during a Big Ten Conference game against ninth-ranked Michigan State (18-5, 9-3), which has dropped three straight games, at 1 p.m. today in East Lansing, Mich.
“I think we’re playing well, but we’re not shooting the ball well, and that makes for a lot of challenges for a head coach because guys equate playing well with shooting the ball well,” coach Richard Pitino said Friday.
Pitino focuses on how the Gophers allowed only 56 points to Wisconsin, holding the Badgers to 35 percent shooting from the field.
But until the Gophers start to knock down shots, their fringe NCAA tournament hopes likely will continue to dwindle.
Minnesota has shot 22 percent from deep in Big Ten road games this year, and five of their final eight are away from The Barn.
As a freshman, Kalscheur is the Gophers’ best long-range shooter at 36 percent, with Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer each at 29 percent. Isaiah Washington makes 21 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“It’s just got to be a point of emphasis on taking good shots,” Pitino said, something he felt they took against Wisconsin. “We’ve just got to continue to rep it out in the gym because there are guys that aren’t shooting a great percentage.”
Before the 92-87 win over Iowa, Pitino tried to encourage Coffey and McBrayer to shoot more 3s. The did, and it help them knock off the ranked Hawkeyes.
Graduate transfer guard Brock Stull made two key 3-pointers (and the only two he shot) in the U’s road win over Wisconsin in January.
He played a season-high 22 minutes against the Badgers, but has played only 35 minutes in the nine games since, including two games stuck on the bench.
On the year, though, he’s made eight of 15 from deep (53 percent).
“I need to look to him a little bit more because he can shoot it,” Pitino said Friday. “That is something that we were just talking about, so I do think he needs to get a little bit more time.”
But the Gophers’ meal ticket has been going inside to Murphy and Daniel Oturu in the post, so if they don’t make 3-pointers, more defensive attention will go toward them.
“We’ve just got to scratch and claw,” Pitino said, “and see if we can get a road win.