Three things to watch — Gophers vs. South Carolina Upstate
The Gophers opened Thursday's 70-68 loss against Missouri scorching shooting the ball. They started 5-for-5 on three-pointers, including four starters hitting from beyond the arc.
Elijah Hawkins and Isaiah Ihnen each had a pair of threes midway through the first half for the Gophers, who hit 7-for-11 from deep to lead 30-20 at the 9:29 mark. They would only go 1-for-12 from three-point range the rest of the game, including 1-for-9 in the second half. Ouch.
Even after that cold stretch from three to finish the game Thursday, the Gophers still rank fourth in the Big Ten at 39.1% from deep. Ihnen also ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point accuracy at an impressive 72.7% (8-for-11).
Ihnen (2.7), Mike Mitchell Jr. (2.4) and Cam Christie (2.0) are averaging at least two made threes per game, ranking among the Big Ten's leaders early this season, but what happens when those shots stop falling? That was a rude awakening when a 20-point second-half lead evaporated Thursday with Missouri's late 31-9 run.
The Gophers were scoreless from the field in the last 6:03. They were 0-for-6 from the field during that stretch, but the last three misses were threes in a two-point loss. Taking advantage of Dawson Garcia and Pharrel Payne (returned from foot injury) inside could be a factor Saturday. They combined for 26 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks vs. Missouri.
USC Upstate can shoot as well, ranking first in the Big South in three-point accuracy (41.9%). Senior guard Miguel Ayesa leads the league at 50% from three (12-for-24) and averages 3.0 made threes per game.
USC Upstate will bring the pressure defensively just like Missouri. Watch out Gophers.
The Spartans led the Big South in turnovers forced per game (18.0), turnover margin (plus-6.8) and steals per game (11.0). Some of their stats are skewed after they scored 106 points on 28 turnovers and 19 steals vs. Carolina University, a National Christian College Athletic Association program. But USC Upstate also had 11 steals and forced 15 turnovers against South Carolina and had eight steals and forced 15 turnovers vs. Vanderbilt in a 74-67 loss this season.
Ben Johnson's team can't afford to be sloppy with the ball again after committing 16 turnovers against Missouri. The Gophers are tied with Penn State, averaging 14.7 turnovers per game. Hawkins, who led the nation with 4.0 turnovers per game last season, now leads the Big Ten with 3.7 turnovers per game.
Free throw fancy
The Gophers are a much different team this season at the foul line. Night and day.
Last season, the Gophers were dead last in Division I in free throw percentage (61.9%), but they've shown major improvement so far. They rank second in the Big Ten and 60th nationally (77.9%) in free throw percentage through three games.
In the opening win vs. Bethune-Cookman, the Gophers shot 27-for-35. The 27 free throws made were the most in a game for the Gophers since they made 34 free throws during the 2020-21 season against Saint Louis and UMKC, respectively.
Garcia also went 14-for-16 from the foul line against Bethune-Cookman, the most free throws by a Gophers player since Marcus Carr went 14-for-19 vs. Saint Louis on Dec. 12, 2020.
Hawkins is shooting 11-for-11 from the foul line this season. Garcia's shooting 90.3% (28-for-31 from the charity stripe). Probably not a bad idea to have the ball in their hands to end games.
Time: 1 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 11.5-point favorite. Series: The Gophers won the only previous meeting with USC Upstate 92-77 at the Barn on Nov. 10, 2017. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN plus. Radio: 103.5 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (2-1)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Elijah Hawkins 5-11 Jr. 8.7
G – Braeden Carrington 6-4 So. 7.3
F – Joshua Ola-Joseph 6-7 So. 9.3
F – Isaiah Ihnen 6-9 Jr. 12.7
F – Dawson Garcia 6-11 Jr. 20.3
Key reserves – Cam Christie, G, 6-6, Fr., 10.0 ppg; Parker Fox, F, 6-8, Sr., 4.3 ppg; Mike Mitchell Jr., G, 6-2, Jr. 8.3 ppg; Pharrel Payne, F, 6-9, So., 7.5 ppg.
Coach: Ben Johnson 24-40 record (3rd season)
Notable: Dawson Garcia was named Big Ten player of the week for the first time in his career on Monday after averaging 22.5 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the first two wins of the season. Garcia was the first Gophers player to open the season with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double since Jordan Murphy had a 35-point, 15-rebound game vs. USC Upstate to open the 2017-18 season.
USC UPSTATE SPARTANS (2-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nick Alves 6-6 Sr. 8.5
G – Justin Bailey 6-3 So. 13.8
F – Jordyn Surratt 6-7 So. 5.8
F – Ahmir Langlais 6-9 Sr. 8.5
Key reserves – Miguel Ayesa, G, 6-5, Sr., 11.0 ppg; Floyd Rideau Jr., G, 6-5, Jr., 3.5 ppg; Jalen Breazeale, G, 5-11, So., 6.5; Patrick Iriel, F, 6-10, Jr., 2.0 ppg.
Coach: Dave Dickerson 123-181 (10th season)
Notable: Dickerson was the head coach at Tulane from 2005-10, but he was fired after going 68-84 in five seasons. He was replaced as Green Wave coach by former Gophers assistant Ed Conroy in 2010. Dickerson has Big Ten ties as a former Ohio State assistant under Thad Matta from 2010-17. A former Maryland player, he was a longtime Terrapins assistant (1996-2005) under legendary coach Gary Williams, including on the 2002 national championship team.
Fuller's score prediction (2-1): Gophers 83, USC Upstate 68.