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Men’s basketball: Gophers’ leading scorer Jamison Battle finding rhythm and scoring touch

The junior shot 47% from the field and 50% from deep in Sunday’s 89-70 loss at Purdue.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Purdue
Minnesota forward Jamison Battle, left, shoots the ball over Purdue's Ethan Morton on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022.
Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- University of Minnesota men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson tried to warn Jamison Battle.

The school’s leading scorer wasn’t going to come back from foot surgery and immediately perform at an all-Big Ten level. It was going to take some time to get his legs underneath him and find a rhythm.

After missing the first four games due to foot surgery in late October, Battle shot 26% from the field and 23% from 3-point range in his first three games back.

The junior forward bounced back to shoot 47% from the field and 50% from deep in Sunday’s 89-70 loss at Purdue. He will look to keep it up when Minnesota (4-4, 0-1 Big Ten) plays host to Michigan (5-3, 0-0) in its Big Ten home opener at Williams Arena at 8 p.m. Thursday.

“Those game reps under his belt (now) and the timing is there and you see a couple of shots go in because you get legs, well, now the confidence is there. And that is just what happens,” Johnson said Wednesday.

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Despite only having a handful of practices, Battle said he was holding himself to a “very high standard,” which was set, in part, when he averaged 17.5 points per game across 29 games last season. He is averaging 13.8 so far this season.

MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
The loss was the 2nd straight by a 35-point margin
Minnesota has lost 6 straight games, one behind the 7 consecutive defeats Richard Pitino’s last team at Minnesota suffered in February-March 2021.
The Gophers have lost two in a row and six of seven overall.
Center Trey Thompson broke his nose at Northwestern but plans to play Wednesday vs. Rutgers
And why shouldn’t she? Indiana brings a 20-1 record and No. 4 national ranking into Wednesday’s game at the Barn
The Gophers (9-12 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) led only once, 2-0, on a layup by Rose Micheaux in the game’s first 16 seconds.
After an 81-61 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, Minnesota is 1-9 in Big Ten play with 10 games remaining
Junior wing who led Minnesota in scoring last season has struggled offensively at times this season
With two more players unavailable Wednesday, the Gophers had roughly half that roster max against Indiana at Williams Arena.
Minnesota is the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation, making a woeful 59.3% this year to rank 352 out of 352 Division I programs.

“It’s just about getting back into rhythm and, I think, I was 100 percent in all of those games,” Battle said. “… Obviously you are not going to be there, you are not going to be all the way there, but as time progresses and you get more practices, you get more comfortable on the court.

“I felt better and my teammates put me in positions to succeed in that Purdue game,” Battle said. “I felt like my confidence has kept growing, and that is just how it goes in basketball.”

The Gophers likely need Battle to score in bunches to counteract Wolverines big man Hunter Dickinson, who is averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game this season.

Minnesota was rolled by Purdue 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey on Sunday, but the 7-foot-1 Dickinson presents a different challenge with his ability to stretch the floor with midrange and 3-point shooting.

The Gophers were able to take down Michigan in Ann Arbor last December, arguably the signature win of Johnson’s first season at his alma mater.

Battle is hungry to prove they can respond after the Gophers fell behind the Boilermakers early and then played them pretty even in the second half.

“It’s a challenge that we are up to,” Battle said. “After last week, we understand it’s about the little things in the Big Ten, and the young guys understand that. … We can compete in this league and we can compete against teams that are maybe better than us, but they are not going to work harder than us.”

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Michigan, a five-point favorite for Thursday’s game, fell out of the Top 25 with a Nov. 17 loss to Arizona State. 17. The Wolverines will be without starting point guard Jaelin Llewellyn, a transfer from Princeton who tore his ACL in the 73-69 loss to No. 19 Kentucky in London on Sunday.

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