Gophers upset No. 4 Hawkeyes

Marcus Carr and Brandon Johnson were unconscious from deep and propelled the Gophers to an overtime upset over Iowa.

Guard+Marcus+Carr+shoots+at+Williams+Arena+on+Wednesday%2C+Nov.+25.+Minnesota+Golden+Gophers+won+against+Green+Bay+Phoenix+99-69.

Nur B. Adam

Guard Marcus Carr shoots at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 25. Minnesota Golden Gophers won against Green Bay Phoenix 99-69.

AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

The Gophers’ men’s basketball team upset the No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes on Christmas night. After a well-rounded first half that held the nation’s leading scorer to just five points, the Hawkeyes battled back. Ultimately, the Gophers needed a late jolt to tie the game and send it into overtime, before they sealed the deal with a 102-95 win to improve to 8-1 on the season.

Redshirt senior Brandon Johnson and redshirt junior Marcus Carr were the saviors of the game for Minnesota as they shot their way to a Gophers’ win.

“He was just confident. He came in ready to go and obviously got a lot of rhythm shots,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “That confidence and momentum built; he’s a very skilled player, he’s been a little hobbled with injuries, but he’s getting healthy and man, he provided a huge way for us.”

Johsnon hit three after three to finish with a season-high 26 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the field, hitting 8-for-9 from deep. The Gophers saw the hot hand and didn’t go away from it. Johnson was a perfect 4-for-4 from deep in overtime for 12 points.

“In the beginning of the game after my first couple shots, I felt like everything, like that I put up, felt good,” Johnson said. “Usually, I’m the type of person [that] if my shots not falling, I don’t try to stray away from shots or anything like that. If I have an open look, I’m confident enough to step up and knock it down.”

What started as the Marcus Carr show became the Brandon Johnson show late in the game. Carr led the Gophers with 30 points, while Johnson was hitting clutch threes left and right.

Going into the night, it was the battle between the two leading scorers in the Big Ten, with Minnesota’s Carr facing up against Iowa’s Luka Garza. The two scoring machines gave the viewers exactly what they expected, as both led their teams in scoring. Garza got off to a slow start but kicked things into gear, while Carr kept his foot on the pedal the entire game.

The first half was all Carr and no Garza, as the Gophers pestered the 6-foot-11 senior for 20 minutes. He came into the game averaging 28.4 points per game on 67.5% shooting from the field. Meanwhile, the Gophers held the big man to just five points on 2-for-11 shooting in the first half.

“It’s definitely a challenge [to slow Garza down], he’s a great player. He gets all the accolades and the type of attention he gets for a reason. I felt like we executed the game plan very well, it was challenging for sure, but the type of mindset coming in that we come in everyday regardless of who it is on the other side, we’re gonna give him 110%,” Johnson said.

Carr proved why he is also a top player in the conference and the league. He led all scorers with 15 points at the half, while leading the Gophers into the break with a five-point lead. He was efficient in his quick start, shooting 5-for-8 from the field, while the rest of the team shot just 9-for-28. Carr hit 6-of-13 from deep in the game, including a three to tie the game with under six seconds remaining.

The Gophers played tremendous team defense and forced the Hawkeyes to beat them elsewhere in the first half. After struggling from the double-team in the first half, Garza turned his game around and helped the Hawkeyes fight back into the game. He shot 9-of-16 from the field for 27 points in the second half and overtime combined.

“I thought our team defense was really, really good versus him. But it was the rebounds on the back side, we’re getting two on the ball, and he’s just so big, he was able to clean it up,” Pitino said.

It wasn’t just Garza that hurt the Gophers, but also redshirt sophomore CJ Fredrick who came alive in the second half. After scoring seven in the first, he caught fire early in the second half and made the Gophers pay behind the arc. He finished with 23 on the night on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including 5-for-6 from deep.

The Gophers’ forced five first half turnovers that led to nine points, getting back to what they do best. That was fueled by Carr, who helped propel the Gophers to a five-point lead that was as big as 12 in the first half.

Junior Liam Robbins picked up his first two fouls seven minutes into the game, and forced Pitino to turn to his deep bench and rely on some inexperienced players to stop Garza. That’s where redshirt senior Eric Curry, Johnson, sophomore Isaiah Ihnen and even sophomore Sam Freeman stepped up on the defensive side.

“[Garza] is one of the best players in the country, we just knew we come in here and do our jobs. Just try to contain him as much as possible, of course he’s gonna score, we know that, just try to contain him and that was our job,” Curry said. That’s the mindset I had going in to help Liam and help whoever, help the team out and do our job.”

That boded well for the Gophers in the first half, but they weren’t able to fully execute the same way and see the same success after the break.

Robbins was a lot more disciplined in the second half and picked up just one foul down the stretch. The Big Ten leader in blocks per game used his length and wingspan to his advantage and blocked four shots Friday night.

The upset wasn’t the same as it could have been with the absence of fans. That didn’t change the energy the team brought or what the win meant.

“That would’ve been huge,” Curry said on not having the energy from the crowd with the absence of fans. “We were talking about it doing warmups. As we were going through the layup lines, we were looking around the gym, we [were] telling the people like Liam and Brandon and all the freshmen cause they don’t really know yet. We definitely missed the Gopher fans.”

The Gophers are just getting started in their tough Big Ten schedule and will be back Monday when they host No. 12 Michigan State.

“We’re still not necessarily where we need to be, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. We continue to get to the free throw line, which is huge, and we’re knocking those down,” Pitino said. “We had a lot of assisted jumpshots, you know, 22 assists is great and took care of the ball as well.”