All it took was one game for the Gophers to prove that free-throw shooting can be a bigger strength than a weakness.
After his team missed 14 free throws in a loss to Maryland earlier in the week, coach Richard Pitino saw quick improvement. The Gophers went 20-for-25 from the foul line in Saturday’s 88-70 victory over Rutgers.
Senior forward Jordan Murphy made the biggest improvement, going 9-for-11 after his 3-for-9 performance against the Terrapins.
“When he gets to the foul line, he’s really, really hard to stop,” Pitino said of Murphy. “It was tough versus Maryland missing those free throws, because he’s going to get fouled. He needs to convert at the foul line, because it’s hard not to foul him the way that he plays.”
The Gophers entered the game ranked fifth in the nation in free throws attempted per game at 27.4. They were 12th in the Big Ten in foul shooting percentage (65.9), so it was a significant advantage to not only get foul shots but hit them Saturday.
“We didn’t really get too down about it,” junior Amir Coffey said of the 9-for-23 performance Tuesday. “It was just a bad shooting game for us. You can’t get too high or can’t get too low with stuff like that. We just practiced the next couple days in practice and stayed confident.”
Sophomore point guard Isaiah Washington had his best performance in Big Ten play Saturday until he was ejected from the game with Montez Mathis late in the second half.
After Washington fouled Mathis on a play with 3:48 to play, he also tossed the ball at the Rutgers freshman guard after words were exchanged. Mathis responded by charging Washington and shoving him before officials and teammates broke things up.
Washington, who had eight points, five assists and zero turnovers in 14 minutes off the bench, tweeted after the game: “I just want to say sorry to all my supporters and gopher fans for getting ejected. Won’t happen again.”
Pitino saw video of the incident, and he didn’t think it was a big deal.
“I saw the Rutgers guy put it in his chest,” he said. “He took it and kind of softly threw it. It wasn’t a whole lot of anything. So he’s got to be smarter than that obviously to not do that, because he was playing very, very well.”