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Another big three-point shooting night could be huge for Gophers

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.

GAME INFO

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

PROJECTED STARTERS

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.

Can Gophers' Murphy get back to his double-double ways at Penn State?

GOPHERS at Penn State

Three things to watch:

MURPHY’S MORTAL – The Gophers need Jordan Murphy to turn superhuman again in a big way after his back-to-back games without a double-double for the first time since last year. Murphy’s double-double streak of 17 straight games to start the season almost seems like a distant memory after he struggled in blowout losses to Northwestern (eight points and two rebounds) and Purdue (10 points and four rebounds). The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 13.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting from the field in six Big Ten games. His shooting is disturbingly low considering he takes most of his shots inside the arc (only 2-for-7 from three-point range). Murphy’s effective field goal percentage (39.1) is 44th among Big Ten players this year, near the bottom for starting posts in the league. He’s still averaging 17.9 points and 11.7 rebounds overall, while shooting 73.6 percent from the foul line. Opposing teams are making his life even more difficult without suspended center Reggie Lynch to worry about in the paint. But Murphy can help himself by getting free throws more often. In the last two games, Murphy is only 5-for-7 at the charity stripe combined. He was 12-for-17 in the previous two games against Indiana and Illinois combined. He also shot 12-for-14 at the line in the Rutgers win on Dec. 3. Murphy needs to somehow unleash his inner beast again and do what he does best – crash the offensive boards to get buckets. He only has two, TWO offensive rebounds combined in losses to Northwestern and Purdue. But Murphy still leads the nation in total offensive rebounds (86).

THREE-GUARD LINEUP – Will Richard Pitino finally do what he seemed hesitant to and go with a three-guard starting lineup of Nate Mason, Isaiah Washington and Dupree McBrayer on Monday? It didn’t make sense when Amir Coffey was healthy, but he’s out indefinitely with a right shoulder injury. What do the Gophers have to lose at this point if it doesn’t work now? A smaller lineup leaves Minnesota vulnerable rebounding. But it takes advantage of the speed of Minnesota’s guards to play an even more up-tempo style. Pitino made a similar move when the Gophers were going through a losing streak two years ago. He played Mason, McBrayer and Kevin Dorsey together. The Gophers made teams adjust to their new look and seemed to be more competitive. Washington replacing Hurt as a starter might actually help Hurt, because he could get more shooting opportunities off the bench. Washington would also spend some time at the shooting guard spot to make use of his playmaking ability.

PENN STATE’S SUPER SOPHS– The Gophers had a strong 2016 recruiting class with Coffey, Hurt and Eric Curry, but both Coffey and Curry are sidelined with injuries right now. Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class of Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick was ranked 26th nationally. Carr and Stevens are now leading the Nittany Lions in scoring at 18.8 points and 15.9 points, respectively. Carr hit a game-winning jumper Friday to escape with a home win against Nebraska. Stevens is averaging 25.3 points on 63.5 percent from the field in his last three games, which included a career-high 30 points against Northwestern. Big man Mike Watkins wasn’t part of the 2016 class, but he’s one of Penn State’s super sophomores after redshirting his first year. The 6-9, 254-pound Watkins is on a double-double streak of four straight games and averaging 16.3 points and 15.3 rebounds in that stretch. Watkins also leads the Big Ten in rebounding over Murphy in league play (12.7 to 10.2).    

GAME INFO

Time: 6 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Bryce Jordan Center. Line: Penn State by 7.5. Series: Minnesota leads 25-10. Last meeting Minnesota won 81-71 at Williams Arena on Feb. 25, 2017. TV: Big Ten Network Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (13-6, 2-4)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.2

G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 9.5

F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 3.1

F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.9

C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.6

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.6 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.1 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 3.1 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.3 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 106-81 (6th season)  

Notable: The Gophers 34-point loss Saturday against Purdue (now No. 3 in the country up from No. 5) is the worst home loss in Williams Arena history. The media guide incorrectly states that a 39-point loss (91-50) to No. 1 UCLA (led by John Wooden and Lew Alcindor) is the worst home loss from back on December 20, 1968. But that game was actually played in Los Angeles, according to newspapers from that date. That’s not a record you want on your resume if you’re Pitino, but bouncing back with a win Monday at Penn State could help his team move on from that embarrassing game a little.  

PENN STATE (13-6, 3-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG                                         

G – Shep Garner 6-1 Sr. 9.8

G – Jamari Wheeler 6-1 Fr. 3.3

G – Tony Carr 6-5 So. 18.8

F – Lamar Stevens 6-7 So. 15.9                                                

C – Mike Watkins 6-8 So. 13.2

Key reserves– Nazeer Bostick, F, 6-7, So., 5.4 ppg; Satchel Pierce, C, 7-0, Jr., 2.2 ppg; Julian Moore, C, 6-10, Sr., 1.7 ppg.

Coach: Pat Chambers 142-143 (8th season)  

Notable: The Nittany Lions will be without junior guard Josh Reaves for academic reasons Monday, according to college hoops insider Jon Rothstein. Reaves averages 10.6 points per game ... Penn State has won three straight games against the Gophers at home, including 86-77 last season … Stevens ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring with 19.5 points per game. He also ranks first in field goals made (48) in league play through Sunday’s games … Penn State ranks 36th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy.

Fuller’s prediction (16-3 picks record)Penn State 78, Gophers 70. When will the Gophers get their next win in the Big Ten? A three-game losing streak doesn’t seem like the end of the world, but losses to Northwestern and Purdue by a combined 57 points in the last two games certainly qualifies as panic time. Losing impact players Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey would be devastating to any team, but the Gophers are having trouble just being competitive. Sound familiar? That’s because the same thing happened two years ago during the 8-23 season in 2015-16. Only it was three players lost (Mason, McBrayer and Dorsey were suspended) instead of two in the last four games. Three straight Big Ten games away from home (hasn’t happened since 2002) for the Gophers will make it difficult to end the slide. But Minnesota could have a shot Monday if Murphy and Mason play at an All-Big Ten level.      

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