Richard Pitino watched the Gophers men’s basketball team miss jump shot after jump shot during a scoreless 4½-minute stretch, when momentum shifted in the second half of Saturday’s first loss of the season.
The Gophers were trying to generate enough offense to respond. Oklahoma heated from up from three-point range — and Pitino’s team went ice cold in a 71-62 loss in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“We settled for some long jump shots,” Pitino said. “We got to do a better job of getting into that lane and putting pressure on the defense. It was very obvious on the film we weren’t attacking them and putting pressure on them.”
The Gophers have two true road games this week — Tuesday at Butler and Friday at Utah — and it’s a fair assumption that there will be stretches where shooting woes occur in unfamiliar arenas and hostile environments.
The Gophers were one of the best teams in the nation last season at drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line. They ranked 17th nationally with 23.6 free throws attempted per game.
Saturday, they took only 12 free throws and were outscored 17-4 at the foul line. They were in the bonus with just under 11 minutes left in the second half. But they didn’t take advantage of it.
“We need to be able to paint touch,” Pitino said.
Paint touches can mean getting the ball inside to your best low-post scorer. Paint touches can also mean attacking the basket to score or get fouled.
Three-point shooting gave the Gophers a lift in their season-opening victory over Cleveland State, with 13 shots dropping from beyond the arc, including five from Payton Willis. Against Oklahoma, Willis hit four of the team’s five first-half three-pointers for a six-point halftime lead, but eventually the jumpers weren’t falling. The Gophers only shot 3-for-17 on threes in the second half, including Willis going 0-for-3.
During a 23-4 Sooners run when the Gophers lost control of the game, center Daniel Oturu’s layup and dunk were their only points. Those were also the only two shots inside the arc for more than 11 minutes in the second half.
What happens when the Gophers desperately need to end a scoring spell? Will they rely so much on shooting threes?
“We got to get the ball to Dan in deeper spots, because they’re doubling him a lot,” Willis said. “As guards we have to do better at getting it to him in better spots, so he doesn’t have to kick it out all of the time.”
Oturu had 11 of his 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the second half, but the Gophers didn’t keep going through their big man down the stretch. Point guard Marcus Carr was consistently driving to the basket in the first half, but even he started taking more jumpers after his team fell behind.
Six of Carr’s baskets were inside the arc, but his team-best 16 points came on 7-for-18 shooting. He also took six free-throw attempts but made only one. Willis and Gabe Kalscheur shot mostly threes Saturday, with 20 of their 24 shots combined from beyond the arc.
Willis also was only 1-for-1 from the foul line. Starters Alihan Demir and Kalscheur didn’t take any free throws.
The Gophers are more finesse and not as physically imposing as they were last season.
“But [free throws] could still be a strength,” Oturu said. “We just have to attack the rim more and not settle for long twos and threes — just be more aggressive.”