With the One-and-Done era in full swing in college basketball, it’s pretty common place to see high-profile freshmen become starters as soon as they arrive on campus.
On veteran teams that isn’t always the case. Minnesota is a good example.
Freshman Isaiah Washington started for the first time in Wednesday’s 86-81 loss to No. 10 Miami (Fla.). And it only happened because junior starting guard Dupree McBrayer was sidelined with a leg infection.
Washington had 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting with five turnovers against the Hurricanes. As Gophers coach Richard Pitino and his teammates pointed out, Washington isn’t the first and won’t be the last freshman to struggle mightily at times during the first year in college.
It’s part of the growing process.
“I told him, Nate (Mason) had days like these,” Pitino said. “Dupree, (Jordan) Murphy. All the older guys have had days like you just had. Every freshmen in the country has that. But we had to play him, because we didn’t have a lot of depth at the guard spot.”
Washington’s first start didn’t get off to a great start with him missing 11 of his first 12 shots. There was a point in the second half when Pitino benched him after Miami went on a 7-0 run to take the lead with 17:23 left.
Washington returned eight minutes later with his team trailing by 11 points. A couple more shots were off the mark to put him at 1-for-12 from the field, but he never missed again.
In the last 6:03, Washington scored 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting and 2-for-2 free throws. His layup pulled Minnesota to within 73-71 with 3:48 to go in the game. The New York native finally got himself going offensively – and it nearly turned the game around. But the problem was everyone else was out of sync for lack of touches.
The Gophers’ leading scorer Jordan Murphy didn’t have a field goal in the last 10:43. Senior All-Big Ten guard Nate Mason didn’t score a field goal in the last 7:56. Sophomore Amir Coffey, who finished with a team-high 23 points, didn’t score a field goal for over 13 minutes (had one at 14:36 and not again until 13 seconds left). Senior center Reggie Lynch also had no field goals in the last 5:13.
Miami’s defense that ranks among the top-five in the country in efficiency had a lot to do with taking Minnesota’s top offensive threats away. But the lack of ball movement and sharing the ball also played a part. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons Washington can take away from his first career start, which could make him better.
It’s not a surprise that even the most talented freshmen point guards need time to adjust to running a college team and keeping themselves involved in the offense as well.
In 2011, Andre Hollins started in his first career game and finished with six points on 1-for-4 shooting (all three-point attempts) in 21 minutes in a win against Bucknell. He wasn’t so hot in his second game, either. He had just five points with four personal fouls against South Dakota State. Hollins was trying too hard to be a pass-first point guard when that wasn’t his game.
Hollins, though, finished the season strong averaging nearly 16 points in his last nine games, while leading the Gophers to the NIT championship game.
In 2013, Mason didn’t get into the starting lineup until Big Ten play. He had 17 points and four assists in his first career start in a loss against Iowa. But in the next eight games, Mason averaged just 7.1 points on 27.4 percent shooting from the field. He also returned to his role as a backup point guard while he figured things out.
That’s why Mason was the perfect teammate to talk to about Washington getting over a bad game.
“I think he’s going to recover,” Mason said. “He’s going to have to recover, because we don’t know how long Dupree is out. He’s going to be able to play major minutes. And he’s going to learn from this game and probably the next game as well. But we’re going to need him.”
As a team, Minnesota missed McBrayer’s experience, length on defense (6-9 wingspan) and perimeter shooting. But Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga’s game plan probably would’ve caused problems whether McBrayer was playing or not. Clearly, Miami decided to put Minnesota’s big men in as many ball screens as possible. That pulled shot blocker Reggie Lynch away from the basket and allowed big man Dewan Huell to go to work for his team-high 23 points. The screening also opened up space for shooters.
Miami’s 51 percent shooting from the field was a season-high for an opponent.