GOPHERS at Maryland
Three things to watch:
THREE-POINT SHOOTING– The Gophers are ranked 12th in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (31.9) through their first six league games. Then they suddenly found their confidence from beyond the arc in Monday’s 95-84 overtime win at Penn State. Minnesota shot 10-for-17 from long distance. All of that came from three players. Nate Mason was 4-for-5, Dupree McBrayer was 3-for-4 and Jamir Harris was 3-for-6 in his first career start. Two of Harris’ three-pointers came in overtime to help him score 10 of his season-high 16 points in the extra period. Hitting 10 threes in a game is rare for the Gophers, who have only done it twice this season and averaged 6.3 threes in Big Ten games. But Mason (42.7), Harris (40.9) and McBrayer (40.6) all shoot 40-percent or better from deep. Sophomore forward Michael Hurt also can be a three-point threat at 36.4 percent.
BACKCOURT BOOST – Mason, McBrayer and Harris combined for 65 points and 10 three-pointers in Monday’s win at Penn State. That was the most points three starting guards scored in the same game for the Gophers all season. Sophomore Amir Coffey’s 14.1 points per game is surely missed, but finding a third offensive option in the backcourt takes a lot of pressure off Mason and McBrayer. Harris was the answer against the Nittany Lions. The next time could be fellow freshman Isaiah Washington’s opportunity to shine. Washington went scoreless for the first time this season in a season-low two minutes Monday, but he has five double-figure scoring games this season, which included a team-high 11 points against Purdue last week.
MURPHY’S FOULS– The Gophers have arguably the least depth in the frontcourt out of any team in the Big Ten, especially with senior center Reggie Lynch (suspension) and sophomore forward Eric Curry (knee) out of the picture. There are bodies available with junior Davonte Fitzgerald and seniors Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou, but they haven’t been reliable for much production when given more playing time this season. That means all is lost when junior star Jordan Murphy gets into foul trouble. That is the worst possible thing that could happen Thursday. For example, Murphy picked up two quick fouls and sat almost the entire first half in last week’s loss at Northwestern. Minnesota trailed by 20 points by the time he returned to the floor. Murphy also is far less aggressive attacking the boards and bullying his way to the rim with foul trouble. He avoided that Monday and dominated the paint the way he’s capable of with 22 points and 19 rebounds in a career-high 43 minutes. That ended a two-game stretch without reaching a double-double.
Time: 7:30 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: XFINITY Center. Line: Maryland by 8.5. Series: Maryland leads 6-2. Last meeting Minnesota won 89-75 in College Park on Feb. 22, 2017. TV: FS1 Online/Live video: Fox Sports Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (14-6, 3-4)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.7
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.4
G – Jamir Harris 6-2 Fr. 3.9
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 18.1
C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.6
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.2 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.0 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 3.0 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.3 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 107-81 (6th season)
Notable: Mason’s 25-point performance Monday against Penn State included 14 points in the first half with four three-pointers. The senior point guard became the eighth player in Gophers history to reach 1,500 points in his career
MARYLAND (14-6, 3-4)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Anthony Cowan 6-0 So. 16.4
G – Darryl Morsell 6-4 Fr. 8.6
G – Jared Nickens 6-7 Sr. 4.9
G – Kevin Huerter 6-7 So. 13.9
C – Michal Cekovsky 7-1 Sr. 7.1
Key reserves– Bruno Fernando, C, 6-10, Fr., 10.2 ppg; Dion Wiley, G, 6-4, Jr., 5.8 ppg; Joshua Tomaic, F, 6-9, Fr., 3.2 ppg; Sean Obi, C, 6-9, Sr., 1.8 ppg; Reese Mona, G, 6-2, Fr., 1.1 ppg.
Coach: Mark Turgeon 388-227 (20th season)
Notable: Maryland lost forwards Justin Jackson (shoulder) and Ivan Bender (knee) to season-ending injuries. But Wiley reportedly returns Thursday after missing two games with a concussion … Three of the last four Terrapins games have been on the road, including losses to Michigan State 91-61, Ohio State 91-69 and Michigan 68-67 … Cowan ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring (20.3 points) in league games, while making 19 three-pointers on 48.7 percent shooting.
Fuller’s prediction (16-4 picks record): Maryland 78, Gophers 70. Maryland has something in common with both Northwestern and Purdue. They all lost to the Gophers last season at home. The other two opponents got revenge in a big way combining to beat Minnesota by 57 points. The Terps definitely will have last year’s 14-point loss in College Park on their mind. But they are missing several key pieces like Minnesota is without Coffey and Lynch. It comes down to whether Mason, McBrayer and Murphy can outplay Maryland’s talented threesome of Cowan, Huerter and Fernando. The Gophers finally gave themselves some relief by ending the three-game losing streak since all the adversity hit. But will not being able to go home on a long road trip and having played heavy minutes in the overtime win wear out the Gophers down the stretch Thursday night? We’ll find out.