Richard Pitino stared and shook his head at Jordan Murphy as the Gopher captain left the court with his third foul of the first half in Tuesday’s 82-67 loss against Maryland.
After missing a free throw, Murphy lunged and made contact with a Maryland player, going off his natural instincts to pursue the ball, which makes him arguably the best rebounder in college hoops.
Pitino’s look said it all, though. He know better.
Murphy’s foul trouble is part of the reason he has struggled with 14 points combined in the last two games, including nine points on 3-for-6 shooting against Maryland. Another part is figuring out how to be more involved in the offense.
“I’ve had a few stretches in games where I’m not taking enough shots, where I’m not being aggressive enough in the flow of the offense,” said Murphy, who has only six shot attempts each in the last two games. “I just have to figure it out myself. I’ve got to regroup a little bit.”
The Big Ten’s leading rebounder was named to the top 25 list for the Wooden Award this week. He also reached 1,500 points in his career. But back-to-back games under double figures scoring hadn't happened since his sophomore year (also had just five points on 2-for-6 shooting while fouling out at Wisconsin).
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound San Antonio native was held below 10 points only once last season when he scored a team-high 16.8 points per game, but it was the fourth time this year Tuesday. Murphy's scoring in nonconference games is 17.9 points per game, which included a season-high 30 points against North Carolina A&T. His scoring average is 9.8 points on 40 percent field goal shooting (12-for-30) in four Big Ten games.
Shooting better from the foul line will help Murphy score more. He's shooting just 55.6 percent (15-for-27) on free throws in league play.
Big Ten officials are allowing opponents to get away with being more physical with him. Defenders are slapping and shoving him in the post, but Murphy has to not let that get him frustrated and get in better position to score, Pitino said.
“The better he moves throughout the flow of the offense,” Pitino said, “he’s going to get more shots.”
Rutgers' top scorer and rebounder Eugune Omoruyi is out after dislocating his knee, but the Scarlet Knights still pulled off the upset over Ohio State on Thursday. They will be confident coming into the Barn on Saturday, but Murphy isn't letting one bad loss or his recent slump get the Gophers rattled.
“It stings,” Murphy said. “We have to remember this feeling, but at the end of the day we’re 12-3. We’ve got another game on Saturday. We have to learn from this and move on.”
Hurt needed to play more
A day after Michael Hurt played just two minutes Tuesday against Maryland, Pitino sent a text message to the junior forward to admit he made a mistake with the lack of playing time.
Hurt, who averaged 2.4 points and 8.1 minutes this season, had played nearly 11 minutes a game in the previous four games, which included some valuable minutes in the win against the Badgers in Madison.
“I should’ve played Michael more,” Pitino said. “I texted him after the game. I should’ve played him more. I think with Eric back, I’m trying to figure out the rotation a little bit. I like Michael at the four probably a little bit more than at the three. So I told him that he’s doing a lot of good things and bringing some great value.”
It was unusual to get a text from his coach about playing time, Hurt said. But he appreciated the communication to understand his role better moving forward. The former Rochester John Marshall star said he will do whatever the team needs to win.
“Just knowing what he wants from me when I’m out there,” Hurt said. “And what he expects from me is really good for me. Whether it’s two minutes or 10 minutes, I’m ready to do whatever he needs.”