Gophers guard Samuels gains Johnson’s full trust

During a five-game stretch in November, Gophers guard Taurus Samuels saw his playing time shrink to less than six minutes per game. But he remained ready to help the team when called upon.

After four consecutive losses, Samuels was part of a starting lineup change in the backcourt by Gophers coach Ben Johnson in mid-December. The results haven't immediately translated to a Big Ten win, but the impact of Samuels has been apparent.

No play was more critical than his game-tying three-pointer with 4.8 seconds left in regulation in last weekend's 81-79 overtime loss against Nebraska.

"No ego and an unbelievable team player," Johnson said. "Not a selfish bone in his body. He's in the young guys' ear every day in practice. Great teammate. He's like that backup quarterback; he knows at any moment I trust him."

The Gophers (6-8, 0-4 Big Ten), who play at Ohio State on Thursday, fell just short of picking up their first Big Ten win with losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska by a combined five points. Getting the most out of Samuels and the rest of the backcourt is a major factor moving forward.

"We're right there," said Samuels, who tied a season high with eight points vs. Nebraska. "We're not going to let the results waver our preparation, especially with a big game coming up."

Samuels, a 6-1 Oceanside, Calif., native, graduated from Dartmouth and joined the Gophers in August. He was known more for his scoring than facilitating in his senior year in the Ivy League while averaging 9.4 points and starting 23 games.

After being named a Gophers co-captain before the season, Samuels quickly found a role. He was the backup point guard behind Morehead State transfer Ta'Lon Cooper. Samuels' leadership would be key for freshman guards Jaden Henley and Braeden Carrington. Henley also started the first nine games alongside Cooper.

The Gophers' backcourt rotation changed once Carrington made his season debut Nov. 14 against DePaul, coming off an ankle injury. Samuels suddenly didn't play much but said he trusted coaches were "going to put us in the best position to be successful."

After a Dec. 8 loss vs. Michigan at home, Johnson searched for a spark. Henley, replaced by Samuels in the starting lineup, played just 18 minutes combined in the next three games. Henley stayed confident, though, making bigger contributions recently vs. Wisconsin and Nebraska.

"It could've been easy for him, or any freshman, to let that get to him," Samuels said of Henley, a fellow California native. "He stays in the gym and is always working. Really great thing about him is he takes coaching and listens to it.

"He went to coaches and said, 'What can I do better to help the team and not necessarily for me to play better.' You see he's applying that."

Henley missed a couple of days of practice out sick this week, but Johnson said he's expected to play Thursday.

"I thought Jaden has been playing his best basketball the last couple weeks," Johnson said. "He's figuring out here's how to be successful at this level. He's understanding how to be effective and how to impact winning because the game is starting to slow down."

Offensive production has been lacking in the Gophers backcourt, so Cooper (10.5 points per game), Samuels (2.4), Carrington (6.8) and Henley (4.2) are being asked to show more consistency.

Samuels, who has only three turnovers combined in five games, had zero turnovers in 32 minutes Saturday. The Gophers emphasized better ball movement and slowing down after committing 20 turnovers at Wisconsin. They responded with a season-low seven turnovers vs. Nebraska.

"We made a strong effort to learn from that and have that carry over," Samuels said. "You want to look at your mistakes and try to build on that."