McKenzie of a year ago returns to wreak havoc on Michigan with three-point barrage

The senior hasn’t had the season he imagined, but hard work paid off.

Gophers senior guard Lawrence McKenzie may not be having the type of senior season that he envisioned after leading the team in scoring (14.9 ppg) and breaking Minnesota’s single-season record for three-point field goals (78) during his junior year.

While still putting up solid numbers so far this season scoring over 10 points per game, McKenzie has often gone missing-in-action when the Gophers have needed him the most. His lack of intensity and inconsistent performances even forced him out of the starting lineup earlier in the year.

The 6-foot-2-inch senior could blame his play on being plagued with minor injuries throughout his senior season, including a groin strain and a hand injury, which may have slowed his production by making it tough to rise off the floor and shoot consistently.

But McKenzie has neither complained nor made excuses for his drop in production this season, instead putting in extra time for shooting after practice and providing Minnesota with a consistent presence at point guard, where it lacks veteran depth.

“I’ve only got two classes until I graduate, so I don’t want to be sitting around the house all day,” McKenzie said about his practice habits. “When you get into the gym enough it gives you a boost of confidence.”

McKenzie, a former high-profile recruit that spent his first two years at Oklahoma before transferring back to his home-state of Minnesota, has more than not seemed like a different kind of player this year.

During his junior season, the Minneapolis-native was an emotional leader for the Gophers, and also was given free-reign to shoot from anywhere on the court anytime he wanted.

But that was on a team that finished 9-22.

Flash forward to Thursday night, and Minnesota found itself in a much different position than this time last year, clinging to a glimmer of hope for postseason play with a 15-9 record coming into its game with the Wolverines.

The type of season McKenzie might have seen more realistic for his senior year can be found in Michigan’s Manny Harris, who looks to be playing similarly to the McKenzie of last season, averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and nearly three assists while playing an average of 32.8 minutes per game.

Whatever his motivation, McKenzie looked to be playing with something to prove against Michigan on Thursday, storming out of the gates with 10 of the team’s first 15 points.

As the game continued, the senior guard looked more like the 2007 version that was an All-Big Ten honorable mention, swishing jumpers from all over and darting quickly to the basket for lay-ups.

“His performance tonight was huge,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. “It tells you about his heart, courage and how hungry he is.”

All in all, McKenzie finished with a career-high 26 points and seven three-point field-goals, tying the school record for threes in a game.

“It was a backbreaker when he made he makes some of the shots that he made,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said.

And while the Wolverines’ freshman-phenom Harris still averages more minutes and points per game than his senior competitor, it’s hard to imagine that McKenzie would trade his 16-9 record for Michigan’s record of 8-18.

“I feel good right now, but it’s because we got the W,” McKenzie said. “I’ve still got to continue to work though.”