MINNEAPOLIS — Alihan Demir was a third-team all-Colonial Athletic Conference selection last season, so when the Drexel forward announced he would be a graduate transfer for the 2019-20 season, roughly 40 men’s college basketball programs flooded in to recruit him.
While the Gophers won the recruiting battle, it didn’t look like they got much in return from Demir’s first few games this season.
At 6-foot-9, Demir was in the starting lineup at the outset but had a combined six points on 2-for-8 shooting, six rebounds, three turnovers and no assists in losses to Oklahoma and Butler in November. He then came off the bench in the next game against Utah and made just 4 of 16 shots.
“He was really frustrated early,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Tuesday. “He’s like, “I don’t know what my role is.’ ”
Demir appeared to be following a precursor from a year ago when Minnesota brought in guard Brock Stull as a transfer from Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The proclaimed shooter managed only 42 points in 32 games in his jump to the Big Ten.
But Demir, settling in with continued chances, has become one of the Gophers’ potential third scoring options behind heavy lifters Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr as Minnesota (9-7, 3-3 Big Ten) takes on Penn State (12-4, 2-3) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Williams Arena.
Demir is now averaging 8.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in 15 starts across 16 games. He has shot 44% from the field, 81% from the free-throw line and 36% from 3-point range.
“He is quietly playing terrific basketball,” Pitino said.
When Oturu went down with a shoulder injury against Michigan on Sunday, Demir stepped up to contribute 13 points and five rebounds in the 75-67 win over the then-No. 19 Wolverines at the Barn.
As Oturu has been a top-three scorer in 15 of 16 games this season, with Carr included in that group in 13 of those games, the third option has been revolving and evolving. Gabe Kalscheur has been in that trio eight times, with Demir seven, Payton Willis six and Jarvis Omersa once.
“I think obviously when Marcus and Daniel are good, that is a really good one-two punch,” Pitino said. “Then you need the consistency at the other spots, and when they are all clicking, it’s pretty good.”
With Willis (ankle) back from a four-game absence, Pitino’s ideal lineup has Willis and Kalscheur on the wings to knock down 3-pointers when teams focus too much on Oturu and Carr. Demir is more of a wild card.
Against Michigan, Demir started to drive to the basket and posted up. “I call it old-man game,” Omersa said. “Nice good post moves, slow buckets.”
And effective. All 13 points against Michigan came in the second half, including 11 once Oturu left the game with an injured shoulder and later played through it. Pitino said he expects Oturu to play against the Nittany Lions.
For players entering the twilight of their eligibility, patience can be thin, and Demir reminded Pitino of that understandable reality.
“They are in a rush,” Pitino said. It’s ‘what are we doing now?’”
Demir, from Ankara, Turkey, needed an adjustment period to a conference that has “bigger, better and stronger” players than those he was used to in the Colonial Conference, which usually sends only one team to the NCAA tournament, via automatic bid.
Demir said it was “pretty intense” when schools swooped in to recruit him after he averaged 14 points and six rebounds at Drexel.
“I just started to eliminate some schools based on their system, their roster, whatever common player they had at my position and stuff,” Demir said. “After that, I just came here and visited here and talked to coach Pitino, and just thought it was the best fit.”
With Minnesota center Eric Curry dealing with reoccurring knee injuries, Pitino said the staff was looking for “a little bit of insurance.”
“It was important to get a guy like Alihan,” Pitino said.