Gophers men’s hoops at Purdue Boilermakers

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Shooting on the road – Whatever the Gophers and Gabe Kalscheur in particular ate for breakfast and before their 86-66 win Dec. 21 against Oklahoma State, they might want to duplicate going into Thursday’s game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Kalscheur scorched the nets with 24 of his 34 points in the first half with five of his seven three-pointers. Minnesota shot 64 percent from the field (18 for 28) as a team by halftime and 58 percent in the game (32 for 55). That was by far the Gophers’ best shooting performance away from home this season, but it technically was a neutral-site game. Richard Pitino’s team is 0-3 this season in true road games in large part because of shooting woes. Minnesota shot just 36.8 percent (21 for 57) from the field in a 72-52 loss Dec. 9 at Iowa, which included Marcus Carr, Payton Willis and Kalscheur combining to shoot 3-for-29 from the field and 2-for-19 from three. In a Nov. 15 loss at Utah, the Gophers were even worse from the field at 35.1 percent (26 for 74), including just 33 percent in the first half. Their worst shooting performance on the road was in a Nov 12 loss at Butler when the Gophers were 33.3 percent from the field (17 for 51), including just 30.8 percent in the second half. Clearly, the biggest reason for Minnesota’s three road losses was something awful players had for their pregame meal. JK. But it sure seemed that way when Pitino’s team combined to shoot just 35.2 percent (64 for 182) at Butler, Utah and Iowa.

Out of Haarms way – How much will Purdue’s 7-foot-3 junior Matt Haarms be a factor in Thursday’s game against the Gophers at Mackey Arena? That could determine just how well Minnesota plays offensively. After missing two games with a concussion last month, Haarms returned to action in last weekend’s win against Central Michigan, but he only played 12 minutes. It might be that Boilermakers coach Matt Painter was saving his starting center for when Big Ten play resumes. Haarms is averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks this season. Sophomore Trevion Williams is having a breakout stretch replacing him with 14 points and 10.5 rebounds per outing the last four games. But Painter likely won’t play his two big men together. Expect Haarms to be used to slow down Minnesota’s star sophomore Daniel Oturu, who is putting up All-American numbers with more than 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game. Oturu had his best scoring game as a freshman last year with 19 points in a loss at Purdue.

Foul line fancy – In the five losses this season, the Gophers shot just 57.8 percent on free throws, but they were also getting just 9.6 points a game from the foul line. That was way down from 16 points per game last season on free throws. Minnesota’s current three game winning streak showed a drastic improvement in getting to the foul line and making it count. The 29-for-30 free throw shooting in Saturday’s 87-60 win vs. Florida International was the most in a game since going 31 for 45 in a loss to Michigan State in 2016. Minnesota previous high this season was 19 for 30 in a 73-68 loss to DePaul at home. Carr finished 6-for-7 on free throws vs. FIU. Kalscheur, Oturu, freshman Sam Freeman and senior Alihan Demir were a combined 17 for 17 at the charity stripe in that game.

GAME INFO

Time: 6 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Mackey Arena. Line: Minnesota 7.5-point underdogs. Series: Gophers trail the series 80-95, including 25-62 on the road. Last meeting was won by Minnesota 75-73 in the Big Ten tournament on March 15, 2019. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN2go. Radio: 100.3.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (7-5)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 14.8

G – Tre’ Williams 6-5 195 Fr. 3.3

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 14.1

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 7.8

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 18.3

Key reserves– Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.8 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 2.3 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.9.

Coach: Richard Pitino 137-111 (8th season overall)  

Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery last month on a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during practice Oct. 7. The 6-9 redshirt junior hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year in 2016-17 after tearing ligaments in his left knee in 2017 and foot surgery last season … Payton Willis, a 6-5 junior and Vanderbilt transfer, will miss his third straight game with a left ankle injury Thursday. He first suffered the injury in a Dec. 9 loss at Iowa. Willis averages 11 points per game and is shooting 38 percent from three-point range.

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (8-5)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Nojel Eastern 6-7 Jr. 4.2

G – Jahaad Proctor 6-3 Sr. 12.2

G – Sasha Stefanovic 6-4 So. 9.3 

G – Eric Hunter 6-4 So. 10.8

F – Trevion Williams 6-9 So. 9.4

Key reserves – Matt Haarms, C, 7-3, Jr., 10.8 ppg; Aaron Wheeler, F, 6-9, So., 5.0 ppg; Isaiah Thompson, G, 6-1, Fr., 4.8 ppg; Evan Boudreaux, F, 6-8, Sr., 3.9 ppg.

Coach: Matt Painter 354-169 (16th season)  

Notable: Purdue has won five straight games at Mackey Arena. The Boilermakers are shooting 48.1 percent from the field and averaging 77.6 points per game at home this season. They have won 13 straight home games against Big Ten opponents. The last league loss at home was 64-63 against Ohio State on Feb. 7, 2018.

Fuller’s prediction (6-6 with picks): Purdue 71, Gophers 63. 

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