Gophers, Jamison Battle hope his game versus Indiana was breakthrough
Junior wing who led Minnesota in scoring last season has struggled offensively at times this season
MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers wing Jamison Battle was a preseason all-Big Ten selection, but the first half of this year has been, well, a battle.
The fourth-year player showed his upside last season, averaging a team-best 17.5 points a game, but foot surgery in late October cost him the opening four games this year and he currently is averaging 12.6 points across 15 games. But Battle appeared to have his swagger back with a team-high 20 points in the 61-57 loss to Indiana on Wednesday.
Battle has scored 20-plus points three times this season but also has been limited to single digits four other times, including zero points against Purdue after tweaking his back in an eight-point outing against Illinois in mid-January. He said this season has been an internal struggle.
“I’m trying to be who I am. I think that is something that I’ve shied away from this year — trying to maybe press the issue and try to do something that I’m not really comfortable doing,” Battle said.
With Dawson Garcia becoming the team’s leading scorer, Battle had been asked to do different things offensively. Head coach Ben Johnson reiterated how Battle did not want to skip a beat after his foot surgery and how that wasn’t realistic.
“It takes time and you combine that with he is playing a new position, so that was new to him as far as in-game experience,” Johnson said. “I think that was due to him just being off those days, and you get out of a rhythm and being patient with yourself to get back.”
Battle’s shooting percentages have dipped. His field goals went from 45% a year ago to 35.8%; his 3-pointers slipped from 36.6% to 30.6%; and his 2-pointers have fallen the most from, 53.4% to 42.2%. Also, his free-throw attempts per game have gone from 2.7 to 0.9.
But against the Hoosiers, Battle shot 50% from the field, 44% from 3-point range and 57% from inside the arc.
“I felt comfortable out there and I think my teammates surely helped me with that,” Battle said. “They are often putting me in the right positions and finding me in the right positions, so I can’t thank them enough to get me back to where I need to be.”
Battle played all 40 minutes against Indiana and was Minnesota’s go-to player all night. But in a late timeout, Battle suggested he be used as a decoy for the next offensive set.
“That’s just maturity,” Johnson said. “That is a guy that wants to win and I’m just really proud he, again, stuck with the game plan. It’s funny when you do that, you have success. He played loose and played free and he really guarded.”
Battle, who added two blocks versus Indiana, wanted a team win, not the chance of personal glory in being a hero at the end.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said.
Garcia (foot) and Pharrel Payne (concussion) missed the Indiana loss but both big men have been progressing. Their status will be key at Northwestern at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“Both of those guys have been good,” Johnson said. “They both have gotten some work in on the court. Pharrel, for the protocol, has to go through a couple more things to see if can get cleared, and we’ll see how Dawson feels (Saturday).”
If Garcia and Payne can’t play, Minnesota (7-12, 1-8 Big Ten) will remain at seven scholarship players for a second straight game.
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