His final box score wasn’t anything super flashy, but on Saturday against North Florida, Elliott Eliason displayed a glimpse of just what the Gophers need from him.
The center, who has been starting all season, isn’t expected to be a big scorer for the Gophers, who have four others in the starting five that are very capable of doing that.
But as the team’s only 7-footer, he is expected to give the Gophers some production down low, as well as rack up the boards on both ends.
It’s been a work in progress so far for Eliason, who earned his spot with scrappy, all-out play and his willingness to do the little things, but who was averaging just 2.3 points a game coming into Saturday.
“I feel it happening a little bit, it’s gradual,” Eliason said. “It’s just really slow.”
Against North Florida, Eliason scored six, and he was efficient with his chances, making two of his three shot attempts and adding two points from the line. But coach Tubby Smith’s concern is that the big man simply isn’t searching for opportunities enough.
“He’s got to finish,” Smith said. “It’s not often you get a 7-footer – you’ve got to make those shots, and he had about two or three right around the basket that were layups, so you’ve got to come away with a foul, a basket or a basket and a foul, one of three. You can’t come away with a miss.”
Eliason says that part of the problem is that when he gets the ball inside, he’s simply not looking to shoot.
“A lot of times, when you see me pivot, I don’t have my eyes to the rim, that’s my problem, I’m looking to passing too quickly first,” he said.
At the same time, he’s been hesitant to change too much of what he does with the team rolling so smoothly with things as they are, he said.
But while the Gophers do want him to make some adjustments offensively, Eliason – despite being notoriously tough on himself for his shortcomings – has improved a lot from a year ago, and continues to be a source of energy for the team.
Saturday, he added four rebounds, as well as three steals and two blocks.
“He’s getting better in a lot of areas – he’s blocking shots, he’s defending the paint,” said Smith (also noting the big man’s free throws) of Eliason, who lost nearly 10 pounds over the offseason to better run with this fast-paced group.
Said Eliason: “I just need to be more aggressive on offense, make myself more of a threat, which I think is the next part of my game that needs to be there.”