Free throws finish Minnesota

Mark Heller

The statistics are hardly coincidental in the wake of Wednesday night’s basketball game against Purdue.
Purdue free throws: 21-for-29 (72 percent).
Minnesota free throws: 7-for-22 (32 percent).
Final score: Purdue 74, Minnesota 69.
Sure, there were other contributors to the Gophers’ (10-5, 2-3 Big Ten) third conference loss of the season. The Boilermakers shot 54 percent from the floor in the first half, cruising to a 39-29 lead. And — unlike the home team — they made 18-of-24 free throws in the second half.
The Gophers entered Wednesday night’s game ranked dead last in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage (60.9), but they barely reached half that figure Wednesday night.
“We can get guys to go out there right now and make 15 in a row,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said following the game, “but that doesn’t do any good. It’s something that is very correctable. It’s a mentality we don’t have right now, and it’s snowballing in the wrong direction.”
Sophomore center Joel Przybilla shook off a slow start and had another big game for Minnesota, scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking five shots.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, Przybilla was also the problem. After missing his first free throw, he made the front end of a 1-and-1 with just over one minute left in the first half.
Przybilla missed all nine of his free throws in the second half — several of which could have been instrumental to completing a Gophers comeback. His 1-for-11 performance from the line left the dejected Przybilla with little to say in his defense.
“It was just one of those nights,” he said. “I just have to keep practicing.”
“Mentally everyone was worried about missing the first one,” said forward Dusty Rychart, who was on the higher end of the team’s free-throw percentage (he hit one of two). “If we miss the first one we get worried about missing the second one, and then missing the next one. It’s just mental. We’re shooting over 100 free throws each in practice every day. It just hasn’t been working so far.”
They stayed within four or five points throughout most of the half, but their free throw bricking never got them within one possession.
But it sure got the attention of Monson, who showed signs of frustration on a couple occasions during the game.
The mood carried over after the game. Monson watched his team throw away the freebies that could have given fans an even bigger reason to hate Brian Cardinal.
“I don’t how much experience you need to shoot a free throw,” Monson said. “Don’t they start that in fifth grade?
“There’s nothing wrong with our players as free-throw shooters, it’s a mental thing.”

Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]