Mashburn Jr. breaking out for Gophers

In just his first season, Jamal Mashburn Jr. has emerged as a key part of the Gophers men’s basketball team.

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Parker Johnson

Jamal Mashburn Jr. walks to the other end of the court during the second period against Illinois at Williams Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20. Illinois beat the Gophers with a final score of 94-63.

AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

The Gophers men’s basketball team has been looking for a No. 3 scoring option all season, and it appears freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. might be the man to fill that role.

Mashburn Jr. hasn’t secured that role, but he is the youngest player up for contention and has been at a disadvantage coming off the bench. That doesn’t take away from the effort he gives on the court in his limited time. He has been improving his game over the season and is getting recognized by his teammates for it.

“Jamal’s a great kid, a hard worker, and he puts in his individual work when everyone is gone every day. His game has definitely improved; he knows when to shoot now, instead of having jitters going into the game. Now, he’s starting to be calm, get his cool; his game is expanding,” redshirt senior Brandon Johnson said.

Ahead of Wednesday’s game against Indiana, news broke that starting shooting guard Gabe Kalscheur suffered a hand injury. On Friday, Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced Kalscheur will miss three to four weeks, as he will get surgery on his right index finger.

With Kalscheur out Wednesday, Mashburn Jr. finally got an opportunity in the starting lineup against the Hoosiers. He was able to set a career-high in his first career start with 19 points on 43.8% shooting.

And he’ll most likely stay in the starting lineup — barring an injury — for the foreseeable future. He made a great initial impression and was deserving of the open spot.

Mashburn Jr. doesn’t look like a freshman from the way he plays and the confidence he has on the court. He is one of the more aggressive players on the team and makes the most of his time each game. On defense, he is always the sole player on the court giving a one-man press to slow down the offense.

On offense, he isn’t afraid to put up shots, whether or not he’s feeling it. He’s confident in his skills and has the ability to score at all three levels. If he’s not driving all the way to the rim, he’s able to stop on a dime and create space from his defender to get an open midrange shot.

After their Feb. 18 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers, Pitino praised Mashburn Jr. skills, particularly his unique midrange game.

Over the last six games, Mashburn Jr. has scored in double figures five times as his minutes continue to increase. He’s proving to be a valuable player in just his first season and is seeing the results of his hard work.

Mashburn Jr. is averaging 7.1 points per game, which has been increasing as he’s gaining more confidence and playing time. His shooting percentage isn’t the best, sitting at 36.5%, but that comes with being confident and aggressive on the court.

“He came to the University with a lot of confidence. It’s just good to see him get comfortable,” sophomore Tre’ Williams said. “He’s a big-time player, high-level player; he’s always had it. It’s good to see [his confidence] come out. Game to game he’s getting better, more confident in himself.”

The Gophers have a couple of other players that are giving Mashburn Jr. competition for the No. 3 role. Junior Both Gach and Johnson have each had good stretches in the season and have contributed to the Gophers’ 13-10 record.

Gach had a good start to the season but has since struggled and has been moved out of the starting lineup. Johnson had a breakout game in a Christmas day win over Iowa and a solid four-game stretch from Jan. 30 to Feb. 11, where he recorded four straight games in double figures.

Johnson and Gach are both scoring more points per game than Mashburn Jr. is and are doing so at a higher percentage. Johnson is scoring 9.0 points per game at 46.8% shooting, while Gach is scoring 7.3 points per game at 40.6% shooting.

Whether it’s Gach, Johnson or Mashburn Jr. who fills the role of a consistent third option on offense, there’s no time like the present for Minnesota to flex its depth. In a season amid a pandemic and a team riddled with injuries, having a variety of offensive options will come in handy.