On a group text after the Gophers’ abysmal 20-point loss at Iowa last week, Marcus Carr assured family members he wasn’t at the team hotel sulking about his two-point, 1-for-10 shooting effort in his first Big Ten game.
“It’s on to the next,” Carr said. “I kind of just tell myself there’s always another one.”
Carr’s family and teammates have seen it before. He keeps finding ways to stay positive, even when he missed a year of high school because of a knee injury, or when the NCAA denied his waiver to play last season after transferring to Minnesota from Pittsburgh.
Sure enough, Carr emerged from the Iowa disappointment and electrified Williams Arena with a 35-point performance last Sunday, leading the Gophers over then-No. 3 Ohio State. It was the most points for a U guard in a Big Ten game since Voshon Lenard’s 38 points vs. Iowa in 1994.
“He’s never second-guessed himself or doubted himself,” said Carr’s brother, Duane Notice. “That’s how it’s been his whole career.”
The next step for the tough-minded, 6-2 sophomore is finding some consistency, a critical element for a point guard and co-captain. Another big test comes Saturday when the Gophers (5-5) face Oklahoma State (8-2) in Tulsa.
So far in the first month of the season, Carr has flashed his potential at home while also delivering some forgettable games on the road. He’s averaging 8.7 points on 20% shooting in true road games, compared to 18 points and 47% in the other contests.
If the Gophers are going to parlay the Ohio State win into a stretch that buoys them to the NCAA tournament, they’ll need Carr regularly at his best.
“He plays hard, he’s tough, he’s confident,” coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s kind of had some duds and some great ones. Where I think you’ll start to see, he’ll consistently perform at a high level.”
Growing up in Vaughn, Ontario, Carr first saw what high-level basketball was like watching his older brother, Duane, play with fellow Canadians Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, who would later be picked No. 1 in the NBA draft in back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014.
The highlight of his brother’s career was starting for South Carolina’s Final Four team as a senior in 2017.
“He definitely inspired me growing up, seeing him do the things he was doing,” Carr said. “He’s always set the standard for me.”
Carr followed his brother’s footsteps by leaving Ontario to attend prep school in the United States. His grandmother lived in Orlando, so in 2015, he transferred to Montverde Academy about 23 miles away in a town in Lake County.
Before he could play, Carr tore one of his anterior cruciate ligaments and missed his entire junior season. He could have easily gone back home to Canada, but Carr recovered the following year to star at Montverde alongside former Duke star and current New York Knicks wing R.J. Barrett, also a Canadian.
“Marcus was determined to make whatever sacrifices he needed to make to attain his goal of a Division I scholarship,” said Carr’s father, Clive. “He wanted to make the best of the opportunity.”
Rocky college start
Former Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings saw Carr as a player he wanted to build his program around.
As an 18-year-old starting point guard in one of the toughest leagues in college basketball, Carr had enough shining moments to earn all-freshman honors. But the Panthers went 0-18 in ACC play, costing Stallings his job.
“The day his coach got fired, I was with him working out in Toronto,” Carr’s brother said. “He was upset but thought he could transfer and be eligible. But the NCAA [eventually] didn’t allow him to play [last season at Minnesota]. He could’ve been negative, but he took the whole year to work hard and stayed with his studies. He started meditating and focused on different aspects of his game to bounce back and take the lead of the team.”
Teammates recognized Carr’s toughness and leadership qualities before he even played a game for the Gophers. Pitino said when Carr was named co-captain with senior Michael Hurt this year, it was “the most obvious pick in my six seasons being here.”
“He commands a room,” Pitino said. “He commands a huddle. He says all the right things.”
Consistency is key
In practices last season, Pitino said Carr often “lit up the place” on the scout team by scoring whenever he wanted with his change-of-pace, attacking style off the dribble.
Surprisingly, it was how Carr handled himself after things got rough for him in losses this season that really strengthened the Gophers’ belief in him.
“When he struggles, people need to know he’s still a great point guard,” Gophers center Daniel Oturu said after Carr scored 28 second-half points against the Buckeyes. “This is, I feel like a coming-out party for him.”
Carr also went 1-for-10 from the field in a loss at Butler, but bounced back to average 17 points and 6.5 assists the next two games. He shot 2-for-9 against DePaul but that motivated him for a then-career-best 24 points in a win vs. Clemson.
The Gophers love that he handles adversity so well and usually responds in a big way. But Carr also knows staying consistently great could take him and this team to an even higher level.
“I still pride myself on being able to perform on the road as well,” Carr said. “[Sunday] is going to catapult me into kind of that rhythm I know I need to be in for us to be successful.”