Gophers guard Marcus Carr has been one of the most explosive scorers in college basketball this season.
That's exactly why Big Ten opponents will continue to make life difficult for the junior standout to carry his team offensively each and every night.
The No. 21 Gophers (9-2, 2-2 Big Ten) learned the hard way in both of their losses this season that when opposing defenses slow down their best player, things can go haywire. They have a chance to prove they're not a one-man show Sunday night against No. 25 Ohio State (8-2, 2-2).
"It's not NBA basketball when you're doing isolations," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "You can't rely on Marcus scoring 30 points a game. I think that offensively the Illinois and Wisconsin games had a lot of similarities. We didn't respond through the course of the game the right way."
The Gophers were held to 23% shooting from the field in the first half in a 92-65 loss at Illinois on Dec.15. No. 6 Wisconsin held the Gophers to a season-low 22 points in the first half on 19% shooting in Thursday's 71-59 loss in Madison.
Carr is averaging 22.7 points this season, fourth-best in the Big Ten. But Illinois and Wisconsin were able to stifle him on double-teams off ball screens, cut off his driving lanes and force him into heavily contested and often difficult shots. Carr shot 3-for-13 in both losses, and he was held to a season-low 10 points Thursday.
The Gophers have a 1-10 record the past two seasons in Big Ten play when Carr has made three or fewer field goals in a game. Their lone victory in that situation was vs. Northwestern at home last year when Carr made up for poor field-goal shooting by going 10-for-10 on free throws.
"It's got to be five guys at all times that are able to attack the defense," Pitino said. "It can't just be one guy. We don't want to play isolation basketball by any means. So, it's not on Marcus. It's on me offensively to get our guys better looks."
The Buckeyes are familiar with how Carr can take over games. Carr's career-high 35 points carried the Gophers over Ohio State last December at the Barn. And the second meeting last season ended with Carr's go-ahead three with 4 seconds left capping the U's first win in Columbus since 2005.
After their first loss of this season at Illinois, the Gophers strung together three straight victories at home while finding ways to support Carr offensively.
"We were able to get good shots from the inside and out," Carr said during that stretch. "I feel like that was an emphasis of ours coming off Illinois. Getting great shots and shots that we want. Not rushing our offense, as well as getting to the free-throw line."
Five players scored in double figures Dec. 20 vs. St. Louis, including Carr's 32 points. Center Liam Robbins had 18 points in both victories vs. Iowa and Michigan State. Forward Brandon Johnson's eight three-pointers and 26 points were the catalyst in overtime vs. the Hawkeyes.
Pitino said junior guard Gabe Kalscheur's team-high 15 points vs. the Badgers was a good sign his confidence is back. But the Gophers still need to figure out how to get talented junior wing Both Gach out of his slump. He's averaging 4.8 points on 21% shooting in the Big Ten.
"Everybody has one of those days when their shot is not falling," Johnson said. "We just have to continue to move the ball and look for the best shot, not just the first shot available. If we just continue to move the ball, I feel like that we'll show more improvement."