Rickert, Johnson spur U to win over Purdue

by Anthony Maggio

Things haven’t been easy for Ben Johnson.

After moving from starter to reserve and seeing his minutes dwindle recently, the guard’s numbers – and confidence – took a hit.

But in Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s 90-68 trouncing of Purdue on Saturday, Johnson showed it takes just one little thing to get back in the swing.

A Johnson layup – off a pretty pass from Michael Bauer – broke a three-minute scoring drought late in the first half and began his 15-point performance.

“When you can get in the game and either get a bucket or get a good rebound and push it or get a steal, it’s something that gets you into the game,” Johnson said. “Then the game comes easier and things open up for you because you’re not pressing as much.”

Johnson’s 15 points against the Boilermakers was well over his average of 3.5 points per game in Big Ten play.

The entire Gophers squad shared his offensive aggressiveness as they attacked Purdue’s defense throughout the game both inside and outside. Rick Rickert, along with the other post players, made an effort to make his presence felt inside.

“They are big, but they’ve been playing smaller than their size,” Boilermakers coach Gene Keady said. “It looks like they got that solved.”

The Gophers shot a season-best 53 percent from the field for the game and an impressive 47.6 percent from the three-point line.

Minnesota finished 10 of 21 from behind the arc compared to its dreadful 9 of 36 performance Wednesday at Ohio State.

Johnson finished 6 of 8 from the floor and hit his first three-pointer in nine tries since the Gophers first Big Ten game against Illinois.

“You could see it mounting as the game progressed,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “He had an offensive aggressiveness to him. That was a huge confidence buildup for him.”

Meanwhile, Rickert scored 15 first half points on his way to a game-high 26. He constantly attacked the basket, as only six of his points came from three-point land.

Rickert shot 57.9 percent from the floor on 11 of 19 shooting, good for his best shooting percentage in Big Ten play this season.

“We didn’t settle for as many threes,” Rickert said. “We took the ball to the basket – that was the biggest key.”

Coming off a 13-point performance at Ohio State where he shot 2 of 7 from the three-point line while struggling to get open, Rickert, like Johnson, had ample motivation for a solid scoring day.

But Johnson’s rejuvenated production has been a long time coming.

“Ben plays very well in practice every day; he’s been phenomenal,” Bauer said. “Tonight he showed exactly what he can do.”

Bauer said the team has been talking to Johnson, trying to keep his confidence level high, especially because of his decrease in minutes.

Johnson averaged 27.45 minutes a game in the nonconference schedule. In his first four Big Ten games, his average dropped to 22.5 minutes per game. But in his last four conference games, his minutes dropped to 15.5 per game.

But Johnson’s patience has helped him keep his poise.

“The biggest thing is that you have to know the next shot you take is going to go in,” Johnson said. “You can’t get frustrated. The thing that has really helped me out is that I know what I’m capable of doing.”

And as for playing time, Johnson isn’t worried, especially after Saturday.

“If you’re out there playing and producing, more times than not you’ll probably end up staying out there,” Johnson said.

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and

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