Gophers star Marcus Carr is atop any Big Ten opponent’s scouting report, and if they can take away the junior point guard’s offensive prowess, or he has an off shooting night, that foe will often win and likely win big.
In Minnesota’s 10 wins, including three over ranked conference opponents, Carr has averaged 23.9 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. In the U’s three losses — all in conference — Carr is averaging 13.3 points while shooting 26 percent from the field and 27 percent from deep.
When Carr had an off night against Ohio State on Sunday, center Liam Robbins stepped up with 27 points and 14 rebounds to propel the win. When Carr was held in check by Michigan on Wednesday, no teammate compensated nearly enough in a lopsided 82-57 defeat.
The scoring production has “got to come from five guys, any of the five that are on the court,” Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said postgame Wednesday. “We’re not trying to put the pressure on Marcus to score 30 a game; you can’t have that. You have to have a balanced attack.”
The Gophers had five players in double figures in their 77-60 win over the Buckeyes but had only one (Carr’s 14 points) against the Wolverines. Robbins had two early baskets in the first three minutes Wednesday and none over the final 37.
“They did a good job of switching everything, denying Marcus,” guard Gabe Kalscheur said. “It was us just not being strong with the ball, not being persistent of what to do with the ball.”
Pitino felt the Illinois defense sped up the Gophers on offense in the 27-point loss on the Big Ten opener on Dec. 15. The Wolverines flustered Minnesota in that 25-point win. The U had twice as many turnovers as assists (12 to 6).
Fellow starters Kalscheur and Brandon Johnson have been near their season scoring averages in the three defeats, but Both Gach has disappeared in those games. The Austin, Minn., native who transferred from Utah before the season has averaged 2.6 points and shot less than 20 percent from the field and from 3 in the three losses.
In the Gophers’ 10 wins, he’s putting up 12.6 a game while shooting nearly 50% from the field and 37 percent from deep.
Gach, who averaged 10.7 points per game in the Pac-12 a year ago, was part of the balance against the Buckeyes. His 10 points that game was seen as an encouraging sign by Pitino.
On his KFXN-FM radio show this week, Pitino recalled a recent conversation with Gach: “I’m just like, ‘Hey, man, you obviously have to get your confidence going. You’ve got a coach that believes in you. I’m not going to bench you, but you got to be old enough now. … You’ve got enough experience, you know you’re a good player, you know you have a bad game, it has nothing to do with the next game or the next day.'”
Another issue that has come up in the Gophers’ past two losses is an inability to get to the free-throw line. They lead the nation in attempts (349) and makes (265) this season, an average of 20 for 26 per game. But they have come back to the pack with the last two defeats: 12 of 14 against Wisconsin, and only 6 for 6 against undefeated Michigan.
“I just think we were so timid instead of trying to get in there and attack their physicality,” Pitino said Wednesday. “We were playing on our heels. We were turning our shoulders. We had a lot of live-ball turnovers. But they had a lot to do with that, too.”