Gophers plagued by poor (and infrequent) free-throw shooting in close losses

Nearly every TV commentator tasked with calling a Gophers men’s basketball game this season has eventually mentioned the U’s most unsightly stat.

Minnesota is the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation, making a woeful 59.3 percent this year to rank 352 out of 352 Division I programs going into Wednesdays’ game against Indiana at Williams Arena.

What those talking heads don’t often bring up is how the U is in the the bottom one-third in the country in free throw attempts this season, too. The Gophers have gone to the stripe an average of 16.5 times per game this season.

That low volume, cynically, keeps the Gophers from missing more free throws; it also has kept them from closing the gap in a handful of close losses.

Minnesota has suffered one-possession losses Nebraska and Wisconsin and a four-point loss to Michigan in January, with the lack of free throws — both attempted and made — stopping the Gophers from turning those defeats into wins.

In practices, Gophers players have shot more free throws than any team head coach Ben Johnson, 42, has been a part of in his career.

“There are no secrets. We know what they are shooting individually and as a team, but it’s different when you are up at the line and there’s people, there’s a score and there’s something at stake, Johnson said Tuesday. “It’s that mental fortitude to be able to block that stuff out and still have the confidence to go up there and make it.”

In those three close losses, Minnesota averaged fewer than 12 free throws — and didn’t make more than 70 percent in any of them.

“We’ve got to be able to be on the attack and be willing to force the issue,” Johnson said. “Now you are making the refs have to make a call, and if they don’t make the call, that is another argument. We’ve got to be in a position where we are living downhill or we are living through the post.”

Jackson-Davis surging

Indiana star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was a monster last week, averaging 33 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and 3.5 assists in wins over Illinois and Michigan State.

Johnson said the Big Ten Player of the Week has developed into a willing passer this season. “That is the biggest thing I see on tape,” Johnson said. “… He is making the game easier for everybody else.”

Jackson-Davis’ frontcourt mate Race Thompson of Armstrong High School returned after a two-week absence with a knee injury to play against the Spartans on Sunday.

Garcia appears doubtful

Gophers forward Dawson Garcia appears doubtful to play against the Hoosiers on Wednesday. Minnesota’s leading scorer injured his leg late in the 60-56 loss to the Wolverines. He tried to play through it but was pulled in the final minutes.

Johnson said if it’s up to Garcia, the third-year forward will play, “But we’ve got to talk about what makes sense and be able to be smart about it.” Johnson added the team would have another walk-through Tuesday night to see what Garcia can do on the court.

If Garcia can’t go, Minnesota will be without the second of its eight rotational players. Last week, Braeden Carrington (leg) was lost for an estimated three to four weeks.

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