Gophers coach to Murphy: Get open, shoot more
MINNEAPOLIS - Jordan Murphy was named one of 25 players on the Wooden Award’s midseason list Wednesday. It’s given out to the best men’s college basketball player each postseason, but the Minnesota Gophers senior forward’s recent play belies this distinction.
In his last thee games, Murphy has averaged a paltry 4.6 shots per game, down from 10 in the opening dozen games this season and the 12 he took per game a season ago.
“He’s got to go find it,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Friday. “… I do think the better he moves throughout the flow of the offense, he is going to get more shots, because that’s not enough shots.”
Murphy managed nine points on six shots as the Gophers squandered a second-half lead in the 82-67 home loss to Maryland on Tuesday. Coupled with five points on six shots in the 59-52 road victory over Wisconsin, Murphy was held below double digits in consecutive games for the first time since midway through his sophomore season in 2016-17.
Murphy knows the onus is on him. “I’ve had a stretch of games where I’m not taking enough shots and not being as aggressive within the flow of the offense,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve just got to figure it out myself and just regroup a little bit.”
After being stifled by twin towers in Maryland’s nearly 7-footers, Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, the 6-foot-7 Murphy appears to have an easier path to the basket coming when Minnesota (12-3, 2-2 Big Ten) plays host to Rutgers (8-6, 1-3) at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Williams Arena.
Rutgers pulled off a shocking 64-61 home win over No. 16 Ohio State on Wednesday, and did so without power forward Eugene Omoruyi, who dislocated his left kneecap early in the game. He is out against the Gophers.
Pitino called Omoruyi the Scarlet Knights’ “best player,” but added “Rutgers is a well-coached, physical, really really tough team. Very good defensively, so it’s a great opportunity for us.”
Pitino said Murphy’s shots cannot just come from feeding it to him in the post and letting him cycle through his moves to the basket. “Sometimes getting a shot comes from setting a great screen or a great high-low,” he said.
Murphy, who remains the Big Ten’s top rebounder at 12 per game, draws more defensive attention with double teams or through zones, which Maryland did effectively Tuesday. So passing out can be good option when the flow isn’t there.
“I’m trying to pass out of it the best I can,” Murphy said Tuesday. “I had four assists (against Maryland), but I don’t think that’s enough.”
Murphy’s poor or nonexistent free-throw shooting has been an exacerbating factor for his scoring output in the past two games. He was 1 for 2 against the Badgers and then 3 for 9 against the Terrapins.
On the flip side, Murphy fouled out of the Wisconsin game with about four minutes left. He had three fouls against Maryland.
“Maybe you are frustrated you missed an open shot or a free throw,” Pitino said. “You have to be able to get over yourself. We talk a lot about when adversity hits over the course of the game, do you go internal or external? Internal means you just shut down, where external means you rally everybody around each other.”
Pitino texted Michael Hurt after Tuesday’s game, saying he wished he played the junior from Rochester, Minn., more than the three minutes he received against the Terrapins. Pitino feels Hurt has provided the most value at the power forward spot.
Sophomore center Eric Curry is under a guideline to play about 20 minutes per game while recovering from left knee surgery. Pitino said that’s OK because it matches Curry’s current conditioning level.