Sharp steps up for depleted Gophers

The walk-on guard was put in the starting lineup after three guards were suspended by the team.

Freshman guard Stephon Sharp protects the ball from Wisconsin at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Mar. 2.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Freshman guard Stephon Sharp protects the ball from Wisconsin at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Mar. 2.

Ryan Falk

The suspension of three guards for the season has allowed another player a great deal more playing time.

 

Freshman walk-on Stephon Sharp has started the Gophers last three games since Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey and Dupree McBrayer were suspended.

 

The Bloomington, Minn., native played 39 minutes in the season’s first 27 games. In the last three he’s played 109.

 

“We did not prepare for Stephon Sharp playing [point guard],” head coach Richard Pitino said before the team’s loss to Wisconsin.

 

Mason, Dorsey and McBrayer were initially suspended for one game against Illinois on Feb. 28, which forced Pitino to start Sharp at point, even though he hadn’t played the position since the fifth grade.

 

Sharp played 39 minutes in the game, matching his entire season total up to that point, and scored 19 points against the Illini. He made his share of mistakes, though, and ended the game with seven turnovers.

 

“I kind of got thrown into the fire, but it was a good opportunity for me,” Sharp said.

 

He started again three days later against Wisconsin after Mason, Dorsey and McBrayer were suspended for the rest of the year. The three are no longer allowed to play for the Gophers, but are still at practice. Sharp said they’ve been in his ear to help him out.

 

“They’re engaged every day,” Sharp said after the loss to Wisconsin. “They come to practice with a good attitude and they’re giving us all pointers, especially me, since they’re all point guards.”

 

Sharp matched up against All-Big Ten third team selection Bronson Koenig against Wisconsin and scored 16 points and committed zero turnovers.

 

“Really happy with [Sharp],” Pitino said after the loss to Wisconsin. “To play like that was very impressive. To play 37 minutes without a turnover was great.”

 

He also tied for the team lead in points during Minnesota’s 75-52 loss at Rutgers with 13.

 

Sharp is shooting 40 percent since entering the starting lineup, which ranks first amongst the team’s guards this season.

 

He has also shown the ability to draw fouls and is 11-14 at the free-throw line since becoming a starter.

 

Though Pitino wasn’t ready to have Sharp as a regular starter, Sharp’s roommate Jordan Murphy said he isn’t surprised Sharp is making the most of his playing time.

 

“I knew [Sharp] had skill,” Murphy said after the loss to Wisconsin. “I knew he had the IQ and everything. I’m really proud of him at this point. He’s doing a real good job of running the point.”