After capitalizing on poor free throw shooting by the Wisconsin Badgers in their road win last Thursday, the Minnesota Golden Gophers gave away a winnable game against Maryland thanks to their own dismal effort at the line.
Minnesota made just 9 of 23 free throws Tuesday night (39 percent), by far a season-worst, as they blew a six-point halftime lead in an 82-67 defeat to the Terrapins.
“Anytime you shoot 39 percent from the free-throw line, you’d better be even better defensively,” said head coach Richard Pitino, “and we allowed that to kind of zap our energy.”
The Gophers stepped to the free-throw line seven times in the second half and never went 2 for 2. The only time a Gophers player made two consecutive free throws was when Gabe Kalscheur scored Minnesota’s first points of the game at the stripe.
Minnesota got outscored by 21 in the second half, bested by a Maryland team that shot 70 percent after halftime and 24 of 27 (89 percent) at the line for the game. The Terrapins shot their most free-throw attempts of the season as freshman big man Jalen Smith — an NBA prospect — and junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. combined to go 17 of 18.
They made 15 more free throws than Minnesota and won by: 15.
What the Gophers have lacked in free throw accuracy — they entered play 251st in the country in percentage — they’ve made up for in volume, reaching the line 15th-most in Division I. But their two most aggressive players, Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy, combined to shoot 6 of 17 from the line Tuesday evening.
“Free throws are mainly a mentality thing,” said Murphy, “and obviously we work on them every day in practice. Today we just didn’t have it; anyone, including myself.”
The biggest swing might have come with 13:48 remaining when freshman Daniel Oturu missed a pair of free throws when he had a chance to put the Gophers up by seven. Maryland hit a 3-pointer on the another end to pull within two and tied it one possession later.
The Gophers wouldn’t lead again as the Terrapins outscored the Gophers 35-15 down the stretch.
“We allowed our poor free-throw shooting to affect things that we could control,” said Pitino.
Minnesota was very good at the line in Pitino’s first season as coach, finishing 36th. But it’s been a weak spot for Gophers teams of the last five years, finishing no higher than 140th out of 351. Things got particularly ugly in 2014-15 when they shot 67.2 percent at the line, finished 247th in the nation and lost several games due to poor performances at the charity stripe. They dropped to 65.9 percent as a team after Tuesday’s debacle and will have to deal with the weight of a home loss that was heavily influenced by foul-line struggles.
“They’re going to know they shot 39 percent from the free-throw line. That’s evident,” said Pitino. “You try not to make it a bigger deal than it needs to be. We’re one of the best teams in the country at getting to the foul line, so we can’t leave points at the free throw line.”
STATS THAT MATTER
- Isaiah Washington got his spot back in the rotation after riding the bench versus Wisconsin. Washington played 17 minutes but forced several shots and finished with just two points on 1 of 7 shooting. Brock Stull, the other backup guard, turned it over twice and did not score in six minutes. The Gophers needed a stronger effort from their bench.
- Cowan scored 23 of his 27 points in the second half. Maryland came alive from three-point range as Cowan routinely broke down the Gophers defense, going 6 of 7 from beyond the arc after halftime. They’d been held without a three-point make before half.
- Murphy was held to just five rebounds, his lowest total since he recorded five against Ohio State on Jan. 20, 2018.