James blocks way to Big Ten honor

by Todd Zolecki

Ever since Gophers sophomore Courtney James sat through a one-game suspension Dec. 15 against St. John’s for violating a team rule, the forward has looked like a different player.
Especially in Minnesota’s last three games. James averaged 11 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest in that stretch last week.
The Big Ten took notice of his strong performances and named him the conference Player of the Week. James also won the honor last year.
Minnesota won all three games against Mercer (94-53), Wisconsin (65-48) and Michigan State (68-43), and James had a lot to do with that.
He shot 60 percent (14-for-20) from the floor, adding five assists and four steals to the stats column. James has scored 10 points or more in the last seven games, including a season-high 17 points against Long Island.
Before the suspension, James averaged 7.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Since then, the 270-pounder has averaged 12.3 points and seven rebounds per contest.
He hopes to carry his improved play over to this week when Minnesota (13-1) plays No. 15 Indiana and No. 16 Michigan.
James will play in Assembly Hall for the first time Wednesday night when the Gophers play the Hoosiers. The Indianapolis native said he’ll have plenty of family and friends in the stands cheering him on.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I know there’s going to be a lot of people there booing, and there’ll be some people cheering too.
“I’ll just try to block it out and do the things we need to do. I know Indiana has a great team. This will be a real test.”
Three-point threat?
Gophers center John Thomas hoisted his first three-point attempt of his career Saturday in the closing seconds of a victory against Michigan State. Thomas said Haskins had promised the senior big men — Trevor Winter being the other — at least one three-point attempt.
“It was in the heat of the moment so I took it,” Thomas said. “I almost made it. My three’s out of my system, and that’s fine.”
Don’t expect Thomas to launch a three against Indiana, but he does hope to maybe take one more before the season ends.
“Maybe the last game for the last hurrah,” he said.
Winter made a three-pointer his freshman year against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. He hasn’t taken his attempt yet this season.
Statistically speaking
In 15 statistical categories released by the Big Ten, the Gophers rank among the top three in 11 of them.
The Gophers are No. 1 in scoring offense, scoring margin, offensive field-goal percentage, defensive field-goal percentage, rebounds and steals.
Fast break point
ù Former Gophers assistant coach Milt Barnes has lead Eastern Michigan to a 10-1 and a 1-0 start in the Mid-American Conference. The Eagles received four votes in the latest AP poll.
Barnes left the Gophers last September to become the head coach at Eastern Michigan.