Gophers face statistical mismatch in Champaign

Minnesota has the lowest field-goal percentage in the Big Ten.

C.J. Spang

With arguably the hardest two-week stretch of the season beginning tonight, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team will start that stretch with the defending conference champions.

The Gophers (9-7, 0-5 Big Ten) travel to Champaign, Ill., to take on No. 8 Illinois, a team that has proved to be nearly unbeatable at home.

The Illini (17-2, 3-2 Big Ten) have won a school-record 31- straight games at Assembly Hall and have the best home winning percentage over the past 6 1/2 seasons.

“Guys always want to protect their home or try to protect their home court,” said senior forward J’son Stamper. “We have to go in there and prove them wrong.”

Tonight’s game will feature what is statistically the Big Ten’s best defense against what is statistically the Big Ten’s worst-shooting team.

Minnesota is on the short end of that match.

The Gophers are shooting a dismal 38 percent from the field, while the Illinois defense is allowing just 59.2 points per game in five conference games.

“We have the guys that we want taking the majority of the shots because they’ve proven in the past that they can make them,” sophomore center Spencer Tollackson said. “I don’t know if it’s a confidence issue or just good defense or bad luck. But I think it all just comes down to making shots.

“I’m pretty confident in the guys that are taking (the shots) ” that eventually they’re going to start going in and start turning things around for us.”

While Minnesota may have the right guys taking the shots, they just haven’t made them.

Senior guards Vincent Grier, Maurice Hargrow and Adam Boone are a combined 60-178 through five Big Ten games, with Grier coming off the worst offensive performance of his Gophers career against Michigan.

He scored just four points on 1-8 shooting.

Illinois relies on its backcourt as well, particularly that of the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, senior Dee Brown.

Brown is averaging 39 minutes per game and 17.8 points per game in five conference games this season.

“He pushes the ball like no other (guard) in the Big Ten,” freshman center Jonathan Williams said. “So I think our guards are really going to have to step it up on the defensive end.”

But it isn’t the team’s offense or defense that coach Dan Monson is worried about.

“My biggest concern right now through adversity is that we stay together and keep improving,” Monson said. “It’s still a long ways to go.”