Men’s Basketball: Gophers Plagued by Poor (and Rare) Free Throw Shooting in Narrow Losses – InForum

ST. PAUL – Almost every television commentator tasked with announcing a University of Minnesota men’s basketball game this season has ended up mentioning the Gophers’ most unsightly statistic.

Minnesota is the nation’s worst free-throw shooting team, ranking 352nd this year with a pathetic 59.3% of 352 Division I programs playing against Indiana Wednesday at Williams Arena.

What these talking heads don’t often bring up is that Minnesota continues to rank in the bottom third of the country in free-throw attempts this season. The Gophers have gone to the strip an average of 16.5 times per game this season.

That low volume cynically keeps the Gophers from missing more free throws; it’s also kept them from closing the gap in a handful of narrow losses.

Minnesota suffered one-possession losses against Nebraska and Wisconsin and a four-point loss against Michigan in January, with a lack of free throws — both attempted and made — preventing the Gophers from converting those losses into victories.

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In practice, Gophers players have shot more free throws than any other team boss Ben Johnson, 42, in his career.

“There are no secrets. We know what they’re shooting individually and as a team, but it’s different when you’re at the line and there’s people, there’s a score and there’s something at stake, Johnson said Tuesday. “It’s that mental strength of being able to block that stuff out and still have the confidence to go there and make it happen.”

In those three close defeats, Minnesota averaged fewer than 12 free throws — and never scored more than 70% on any of them.

“We have to be able to attack and be ready to push the problem,” Johnson said. “Now you’re forcing the umpires to make a call and if they don’t make the call that’s another argument. We have to be in a position of living downhill or living through the post.

Indiana’s star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was a monster last week, averaging 33 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and 3.5 assists in victories over Illinois and Michigan State.

Johnson said the Big Ten player of the week has turned into a willing passer this season. “That’s the biggest thing I see on tape,” Johnson said. “…He makes the game easier for everyone else.”

Jackson-Davis’ frontcourt colleague Race Thompson from Armstrong High School returned to play against the Spartans on Sunday after a two-week absence with a knee injury.

Gophers forward Dawson Garcia appears to be playing against the Hoosiers on Wednesday. Minnesota’s top scorer injured his leg late in the 60-56 loss to the Wolverines. He tried to play through but was pulled in the final minutes.

Johnson said if Garcia has his way the striker will be a third-year player: “But we have to talk about what makes sense and be able to use that wisely.” Johnson added that the team would do another tour on Tuesday night to see what Garcia can do on the pitch.

If Garcia is unable to leave, Minnesota will be without the second of its eight rotation players. Last week, Braeden Carrington (leg) was out for an estimated three to four weeks.

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