Episode 31: Gophers men’s basketball ends three-game skid, looks towards Purdue

In this week’s episode of the “Weekly Rundown,” our staff discusses the Gophers men’s basketball team, their latest win against Nebraska, the team’s difficulty shooting the three and what to expect on Thursday against Purdue.

Nolan O'Hara and AJ Condon

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NOLAN O’HARA: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the “Weekly Rundown,” presented by the Minnesota Daily. I’m your host, Nolan O’Hara. The Gophers men’s basketball team finally ended its three-game skid with the 79-61 win over Nebraska last week. So we’re going to dive back in and back into basketball and talk about these last two games against Rutgers and Nebraska and preview the game coming up Thursday against Purdue. So, I have our basketball beat reporter back again, AJ Condon, to break down these last couple of games. AJ, it’s good to have you here. How are you doing?

AJ CONDON: Good, I’m pretty good, excited to be back on the “Weekly Rundown” and to finally talk about a win … so should be a fun time for sure.

O’HARA: We kind of missed the opportunity to talk about all the wins. And then we kind of started the podcast back upright when they hit this skid. So it hasn’t been as much fun as it would have been, say, after Iowa on Christmas Day. But you know, it’s still chugging along, nonetheless.

CONDON: Exactly.

O’HARA: So, here we are. And you know, last time you were here, we did talk about the team’s road struggles. And the Gophers were in the middle of a road run here where it looked like they could pick up a couple of wins. But it just didn’t happen that way. It was still kind of — it’s still tough, it didn’t happen. And you know, we talked about the Maryland loss at home and Purdue on the road. I mean, I guess what went wrong now in this game against Rutgers where it was close, but they just couldn’t quite come up with a win?

CONDON: Yeah, I mean, this is the first time that on the road, it actually looked like they might get their first win, what really happened, those that start slow start at the beginning of the game, that kind of just set the tone for the whole game, they were able to take the lead by halftime. But it’s just too hard when you start slow on the road to be able to overcome that for the rest of the game. So one positive that to take out of this, though, is that they were in the game for the whole game. They had a shot at the end, Marcus Carr had that opportunity for a three-point shot. And talking more about that last shot is a lot of people were ripping on Carr for taking that last shot, but he’s been the guy all year. I know he forced that shot up. But honestly, there’s not really many other guys in this team that I would want to take that last shot. Carr probably should have passed in and out because he was double-teamed. But at the end of the day Carr’s, the best guy, this team, you want to take that last shot.

Another thing that stuck out to me was Jamal Mashburn continually will have a really good first half and it’ll be a great spark off the bench. And we’ll have 9-10 points in the first half. But he just he’ll come on to the second half and just not be a huge factor anymore. And we’ll get into that more with this last game because he was actually able to do the opposite. But he just hasn’t been scored in the second half after a really good first half. And he’s a guy that the Gophers need to be able to get going in the second half to continue their momentum and play a full 40, 20 or a full 40 minutes instead of just 20.

O’Hara: Right. I mean, you know Mashburn coming off the bench. It’s nice when he can provide that offensive spark for him. Because I mean, like outside Carr, there’s just not much offense happening with this team. And you know them him taking the last shot at the end. That’s the least of the Gophers’ worries, there’s nobody else you’d rather see shooting that shot. I mean, there’s nobody else you think is going to make, you know, so it’s, it’s one of those things like it might not have been the best look, but you don’t want anybody other than Carr taking that shot. And, you know, they finally came out of that game and came out with a win in their next one against Nebraska, which the score looks really good on paper, they won by 18 points. And they got back on track. But even in that game, there were some of the same problems we saw in the losses like the one up against Maryland and Purdue and Rutgers. So I guess what was your kind of takeaway from that game you know, watching it here at the Barn?

CONDON: Yeah, so if I’m an opponent that’s playing the Gophers in the future, I’m going to play zone-D, zone defense against them. Because that’s exactly Nebraska did. And first of all, it shouldn’t have been an 18-point win. Secondly, Nebraska probably should have won that game because the Gophers went on a huge hiatus without scoring a point, without even making a field goal. And that’s because of their zone defense. The Gophers tried to shoot their way out of it by shooting threes, which we’ve talked about, I think every week on this podcast, they can’t do. They went 8-of-36. This past game shooting the three, which if you’re not a mathematician, that’s not good at all. I mean, I don’t even have to get into the details about that. That’s just not a good shooting percentage, but they continue to shoot the three. So if I’m Purdue next week, if I’m any other Big Ten team that I see the Gophers on the schedule, I’m going switch to zone-D because if the Gophers beat me by shooting the three then they deserve to beat that team.

The thing in that game was Robbins is starting to get back into these foul troubles. He took a big break from playing aggressive and getting fouls early. And these past few games, he started to get back into kind of how he played at the end of the season getting some lazy fouls, getting some frustration fouls. And that just leads to him being on the bench for a longer period of time. Marcus Carr got some foul trouble though, that was just one that was once in a blue moon. I wasn’t too worried about that. Another thing that I took away from this game was the defensive rebounding. Pitino talks so much about in these interviews, postgame about boxing out and being physical because the Big Ten is one of the most physical leagues in the nation. And the Gophers have struggled time and time again, and not allowing offensive rebounds. And that’s something that they allowed a lot in the first half, they were able to fix in the second half, but you can’t be giving up these offensive rebounds in league like this and giving teams 20 opportunities because they’re going to make you pay for it, and a better team than Nebraska is probably going beat you because of those offensive rebounds. And then the last thing is Carr can just still finish at will, no matter what it is. He’s able to finish at the wrap at the rim wherever he wants. And he finally got back on track. And he looked more like his self when he was putting up 25-30 points at the beginning of the season.

 

O’HARA: Yeah, I think it’s interesting talking about, you know, teams playing zone defense. How about beater strategy? Because I mean, the Gophers’ offense runs off of Carr driving to the basket, like you said, and Robbins in the paint. That’s where they’re good. And, yeah, if you can take away those things, it’s definitely harder for this team to win. And, you know, we also have talked about the three-point shooting every single week it seems like, but I don’t know, it’s one of those like, you kind of have to revisit because at this point, you know, Pitino said it he said, ‘If you’re the worst three-point shooting team in the league, why would you take the most shots?’ I mean, you know, so he’s aware of the problem. I mean, they thought shot 36 threes, has he offered any more insight into, why they continue to do that? I mean, is this just in-game like it just happens? Or is are they still is this part of the strategy with this team?

CONDON: I think part of the problem is that they are getting open shots. And I think it’s tough for coaches to say don’t take open shots, because you’re not going to get many of them. So when they’re getting these open shots, every time they take a three I’m watching Pitino and he’s optimistic I can tell by his body language like he thinks and he obviously wants it to go in. And when it doesn’t, I can just see the letdown because it’s just time after time. And it’s more with Gabe every time I swear his hands go up like he’s so excited for Gabe to make it, three falls, he’s pumped. But when it doesn’t, he doesn’t even get that mad. It’s just like, let down because they are open shots. These are shots college kids should make it, especially if they want to go on to the next level. So I really don’t expect much to change because it hasn’t yet. And it’s been a problem this whole season. And we’re 20 plus games at almost 20 games into the season. And nothing’s changed yet so I really don’t see much changing after it.

O’HARA: Yeah, you definitely can’t completely change the strategy this late in the season. But I think Pitino did have some interesting takeaways, you know, reading your story after the Nebraska game, particularly talking about the rebounding. I mean, the Gophers were great on the offensive and not so great on the defensive end. And I think there were some concerns he has moving forward I guess what is he looking for more so from that the team rebounding defensively?

CONDON: Yeah, so he obviously loves what he’s been getting on the offensive glass. Brandon Johnson and Liam Robbins have been two guys who have just been huge for the Gophers on the offensive glass and they’re going to continue to work together well, they both kind of feed off each other, and they both work kind of against each other but with each other, they call it a war between the two but in the best way possible because they box out together and they get that offensive rebound. And yes, it goes to stat only one person it’s pretty much a combined stat because they’re doing so much work together. So that’s a huge difference in it and they’re getting second-chance points.

But that’s also going to come with the other teams probably going to have the same chances. They’re also going to get offensive boards. And that’s one thing that Pitino has harped on so much is getting a body on defenders because that’s just something the Gophers fail to do sometimes, and this past week against Nebraska there was one possession, counting a missed free throw where they had four offensive rebounds. And another turn to a three-point. So four points in one possession with four offensive rebounds. Pitino was furious after that possession. I remember watching him on the sideline and he talks about it after this Nebraska game that they’re about to play Purdue, which is one of the most physical teams in the Big Ten. And last time around, they got hammered on the glass so it’s going to be one thing that I know they’re going to be working on and they have worked out in practice leading up to this Purdue game tomorrow.

O’HARA: Right, it’s one of those things, you look at the Nebraska game. And if you’re bad on the defensive glass against Nebraska, it’s you’re probably not going to be doing too well against Purdue. And in the same vein, you know, you’re not going to have the same amount of opportunities on the offensive end, as you will against a Nebraska team.

CONDON: Yep.

O’HARA: So, you know, kind of looking towards this game on Thursday. They lost to Purdue earlier in the year. So like, what kind of challenges you know, do you see like, what kind of what it was Purdue able to do last time around? And, you know, we also talked to a lot about Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. And how can the Gophers do a better job against those two guys?

CONDON: Yeah, so the Gophers were leading this game, it looked like honestly a game that they were going to be able to pull out on the road. And after a full 40 minutes, they weren’t able to pull it out. And one of the things Pitino said in that press conference was, they played a really good 20 minutes, a really good first half. But they got to start learning how to play that full 40 minutes. And that’s something that they’re going to need to do against teams in the Big Ten. Because the Big Ten is a very deep and good conference. So the first thing that they need to do for Thursday is playing a full 40 minutes. The second thing is don’t let them shoot, Purdue that is. Don’t let them get hot from three angles and shoot so many threes. They went I think it was either 0-5-or-6 in the first half. Then they went 8-of-10 from three in the second half. And that was a big reason for that comeback. They had Trevion Williams and Zack Edey were both really good, but it was more Brandon Newman who really hurt the Gophers. He had 29 points in that game. Then on the Gopher side, Marcus Carr needs to be more of a threat he went 2-for-13 in that matchup last time, which we know that Marcus Carr and Robbins, we’ve talked about how those are the two biggest contributors to the offense. And if your biggest one is going 2-for-13 you’re not going to win many games. And then just with our last segment is do not allow offensive boards because that killed them in their last meeting.

O’HARA: Yeah, for sure. You know, you talked about the play 40 minutes … Was it against Rutgers? Where Pitino was like we played a great 37 minutes?

CONDON: 37 and a half minutes. Yeah, that’s what they got to do. They just got to figure out how to play the full 40 minutes. Because that’s how long the game is. And you know, the opponents are going to be playing those full 40 minutes.

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O’HARA: Right, and you don’t want to be like the other Minnesota basketball team here that that really has trouble closing out, closing out games.

CONDON: Double-digit leads to double-digit losses.

O’HARA: Yeah, that’s the Minnesota basketball that the Gophers need to try and avoid. They don’t want to play that brand.

CONDON: I don’t want to see that brand. I’m lucky enough that the Timberwolves aren’t on YouTube TV. So I can just watch on ESPN that they blew the lead. But I’ll don’t actually have to watch it.

O’HARA: Yeah, I can follow along with our local reporters. I could just scroll through Twitter be like another 18-point lead gone. But yeah. And you know, looking back to this last matchup against Purdue too. Was there anything else that stood out to you? You talked, you know, a little bit about, you know, the offensive boards, you can’t let Purdue do that. But I guess what else from that game kind of stands out looking towards this game Thursday?

CONDON: Yeah, it’s really just slowing down Brandon Newman. Obviously, it’s going to be tough with Edey and Williams inside, and that’s going to go on Liam Robbins, he can’t be into this foul trouble. Because when he does, and he got a seven-foot-four guy in Edey, he’s going to eat away in the paint. And that’s just going to open up the outside shooting for Purdue, which we saw the second half, they went 8-for-10. So Robbins needs to stay in the game. Gophers just have to play good team defense. And let that defense turn into offense. We’ve seen them and their transition play on long rebounds and misses getting steals. Take advantage of take advantage of their fast pace, and just keeping Purdue on their heels.

O’HARA: Yeah, it’ll be I think it’ll be a fun game to watch to kind of see where they progress into that last time. Um, I guess from your perspective, do you think they’ll play better, fare better, or worse, this go-round? And I guess why so? And kind of what expectations do you have?

CONDON: Yeah, so this time around, I definitely think it’s going to go different for a few reasons. One, going into the last game, they had just came off their first home loss and had a week break to kind of obviously practice but that was still in their mind that they just had their first home loss of the season. It was going to happen at some point, but it just happened to happen before that first Purdue game. Looking to this matchup on Thursday. They just came off a dominant one. I mean, it was an 18-point win. That’s a dominant one at home. And it was only back on Monday, so they don’t have that much time to sit back and kind of relax. They’re just getting right back into action, and three days, so I think that’s going to have a big impact because back then, when the Gophers lost to Purdue that first time, they were going a week with a game, and then another week until their next game, they finally have momentum, they’re playing more games in a short span of time. So I think that’s definitely going to happen or help a lot from Minnesota. It’s definitely going to be a closer game. I don’t really want to make a prediction because last time, I think I was 0-3 and when we were trying to talk about the next road, three games, I went 0-3.

O’HARA: This is your chance to correct yourself.

CONDON: Okay, I will go for it. I’m going to say the Gophers win by a possession, it’s going to be a very close game. And it’s going to come down to the wire. And I honestly think it’s going to come down to the wire with Purdue having the last shot. And not going in and Gophers are able to hold out and kind of just start fighting back and getting more solidified in that NCAA Tournament.

O’HARA: For sure. And it is like you said, it’s a home game. And I think one thing we’ve talked — well I don’t know if we have actually talked about it — but, you know, the Gophers do play better at home than they do on the road.

CONDON: If you haven’t noticed.

O’HARA: If you haven’t noticed yet. This year, they seem to be a little bit better at home. But yeah, I think that’s all we have for you here. AJ thanks for joining us, appreciate you being here and glad to talk some more basketball with you.

CONDON: As always, thanks for having me.

OUTRO MUSIC PLAYS

O’HARA: In other news: The Gophers swim and dive team made headlines Wednesday with Sarah Bacon earning the Big Ten Women’s Diver of the Week honors and Max McHugh earning the Big Ten’s Men’s Swimmer of the Week award. The Big Ten diving championships are coming up at the end of the month from Feb. 24-27.

Another team making headlines for the Gophers is the women’s cross-country team. The Gophers were the Big Ten runner-up with Bethany Hasz winning the title with the time of 20:13.2 becoming the program’s second-ever individual Big Ten champion.

The fifth-ranked Gophers men’s hockey team is coming off a difficult weekend against Wisconsin where they lost 4-1 last Friday and 8-1 last Saturday. They’ll look to get back on track this weekend against Notre Dame, a team they got swept by early in the year.

The second-ranked Gophers women’s hockey team is also coming off a series against Wisconsin. It lost 4-3 in overtime on Friday and tied 2-2 after overtime Saturday, but got an extra point in the shootout. They’ll hit the ice again this weekend against a familiar opponent in the Ohio State Buckeyes. It’ll be the third series against Ohio State this season, with Minnesota and Ohio State holding an even record against each other so far 2-2.

The Gophers volleyball team earned two five-set victories over Purdue last weekend. Stephanie Samedy earned both Big Ten and AVCA player of the week honors for her dominant weekend where she tallied 48 kills and 36 digs. The schedule doesn’t get any easier though for Minnesota, who faces Penn State at the Pav this Saturday and Sunday.

That’s all for this week. Be sure to check our website mndaily.com for more coverage and tune in again next week to get the “Weekly Rundown” on all things Gopher sports. Thanks.

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