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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
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Published June 13, 2024

Gophers join college basketball’s season of surprises

The young Gophers team faced adversity in the early part of their season, much like the rest of the Big Ten.
Image by Amaya Battle
Gopher Men’s basketball players Parker Fox and Jack Wilson high-fiving during their game versus Bethune Cookman on Monday Nov. 6, 2023 at the Barn at the University of Minnesota.

The Gophers men’s basketball team already posted a 4-2 record this season, calling the team’s performance into question.

Gophers head coach Ben Johnson said his team’s largest point of emphasis right now is learning how to play with a lead.

The Gophers held a 20-point advantage on Nov. 16 over the Missouri Tigers in the second half but could not hang on as the Tigers took the lead with nine seconds left to play.

Similarly, the Gophers held a 21-point lead late in the first half against Arkansas Pine-Bluff and ended the half with a 15-point difference in the score. The Gophers escaped with a win despite only making 13 shots from the field in the second half.

Johnson said adversity will hit, especially for a team that has not “gone through it,” so it ultimately comes down to teammates trusting each other when shots aren’t falling.

“No one needs to put on the cape and be Superman, and there’s no 10-point play that’s going to flip it,” Johnson said.

The Gophers fell to San Francisco 76-58 on Sunday with Minnesota’s 18 turnovers being the biggest indication of the defeat. San Francisco converted Minnesota’s 18 turnovers into 25 points.

Adversity is not unique to the Gophers this season. James Madison University upset then-ranked No. 4 Michigan State on Nov. 6 and Long Beach State defeated Michigan the same day. Penn State dropped three consecutive matches after opening their season 4-0.

The Gopher’s adversity stems from their inability to enter the second half with “guns blazing,” according to Johnson. He said his team comes out too casual which ultimately gives their opponent confidence to make a run on the scoreboard.

“We had to flip that and get guys in there that understand the urgency you have to have all the time,” Johnson said.

The challenges the Gophers faced against Missouri left leading scorer Dawson Garcia to appear visibly upset after the game. He admitted to making the impulsive decision to cut his long hair the next day.

“I called my barber and I said, ‘It’s time’ and he said, ‘I know,’” Garcia said. “I will say, I do feel a lot more free.”

With so many new faces on the Gophers roster, the team has yet to reach their full potential as veterans like Pharell Payne have been missing playing time. Johnson said he has been limiting Payne due to a foot injury.

“It’s nothing major, it’s just I don’t want it to turn into [anything] major,” Johnson said.

Payne competed over 20 minutes for the first time this season against San Francisco. In terms of his role on the team, he said his job is to bring more of a defensive presence on the court.

“I feel like that’s what I’m best at,” Payne said. “If I’m able to get everybody together on the offensive side, odds are we do well.”

As he figures out lineups early in the season, Johnson said he is trying to get his younger players more playing time. Johnson added after the Arkansas Pine-Bluff game, he was glad he got redshirt freshman Kadyn Betts in the game but wished he got graduate Jack Wilson and freshman Kris Keinys in.

“If we would have been able to handle business better, then you can get those guys in because they need the game reps,” Johnson said.

True freshman Cam Christie is also adjusting to the competitive nature of college basketball after playing at Rolling Meadows High School last season. Christie said he has learned a lot from both teammates and coaches since joining the collegiate level.

“There’s nobody that you can really come out against and sleepwalk because you will lose,” Christie said. “It’s big boy basketball.”

With a long season ahead of them, the Gophers have their work cut out for them, much like the rest of the conference as teams look to establish their identity. The Gophers play New Orleans on Thursday before taking on Ohio State, their first Big Ten opponent of the season, on Sunday.

Correction: A previous version of this article included the wrong score for a game against Indiana and Valparaiso. That section has been removed.

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  • Michael Hyland
    Nov 30, 2023 at 12:10 am

    I think that this is an accurate analysis of the most important challenges the Gophers are facing now and hopefully will be able to work thru, before the Big 10 season begins! God bless the Gophers and keep them healthy Amen!

  • Patrick Krier
    Nov 29, 2023 at 9:53 pm

    Illinois beat Valparaiso by 23, they were down 7 at halftime but had a huge second half.

  • Tom
    Nov 29, 2023 at 9:20 pm

    Correction: Illinois beat Valparaiso 87-64 on Nov. 17. Illinois’ lone loss of the season was to Marquette 71-64 on Nov. 14.