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Gophers men’s basketball developing a winning mindset

With their first Big Ten win of the season, the Gophers are growing to know the feeling of winning and what it takes.
Image by Amaya Battle
Dawson Garcia launches a three-pointer against Bethune-Cookman on Nov. 6, 2023.

Winning in the Big Ten is not a feeling the Gophers men’s basketball team is used to, but the team still walked away on Wednesday with their first conference win of the season over Nebraska.

The Gophers faced a 15-point deficit at halftime and were outrebounded 20-11. With their leading scorer out due to an ankle injury, sophomore Braeden Carrington said the team had to rally.

“We had a lot of learning experiences, you know, to help us with this win tonight,” Carrington said.

The Gophers had just returned from a road game in Columbus, Ohio, where leading scorer Dawson Garcia’s 28-point second-half performance was not enough to return home with a win.

Head coach Ben Johnson said it took too long for his guys to “get settled” and, ultimately, their game against Ohio State got out of control too quickly.

“Good teams make you pay, especially in a league game on the road, and we got to really tighten that up,” Johnson said.

The Gophers are fielding a young team with three sophomores, three freshmen and two players who missed the last two seasons due to injury. Johnson knows his team is a “work in progress” and not used to the feeling of winning.

Redshirt senior Parker Fox played in an NCAA DII Central Region Tournament game with Northern State University, junior Elijah Hawkins played in the NCAA Tournament last season with Howard University and Garcia was a 2020 McDonald’s All-American.

Outside of those three athletes, the concept of winning intraconference games for the Gophers is nearly foreign.

Johnson said players like Garica and Hawkins have been stepping up to instill confidence in their teammates to develop a winner’s mindset.

“It’s a lot easier for those guys to say it because they’ve won or they’ve had success, there’s something to fall back on,” Johnson said.

Hawkins said he is striving to bring a winning mentality to the Minnesota program. Part of that comes with playing with a sense of urgency, something the Gophers routinely lack in the first half of their games.

At the end of the first half against Ohio State, the Gophers trailed by 14 and committed nine turnovers, which Ohio State converted into 11 points.

“The other team is — they’re basically trying to kill us out there,” Hawkins said. “We got to compete back and we just can’t, you know, take the back seats.”

Minnesota did not falter after Nebraska’s intensity early on. In the second half alone, the Gophers out-rebounded the Cornhuskers 21-12 and doubled them in scoring.

Johnson said the victory helped to instill a winner’s mindset because now, the team has a feeling to fall back on when adversity hits.

“This game was so big for so many reasons and was the biggest game in my two and a half years here,” Johnson said. “Every game moving forward, we can lean back on this right here.”

With a Big Ten win under their belt nine games into the season, the Gophers proved they can step up when adversity hits. Now, it is just a matter of harnessing the feeling of winning to push through the hardship.

Last season, the Gophers won their first Big Ten matchup on Jan. 12 on the road against Ohio State. Carrington said it felt great to get a conference win early in the season because it is proof of the potential the team has going forward.

“It was an even bigger win to know that Dawson knows now that we have players that can step up and really just keep the team going,” Carrington said.

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  • Gina K
    Dec 10, 2023 at 4:38 pm

    i feel the consistency of their effort is one of the biggest things holding them back right now… if they played all of every game the way they play the last ten minutes, they’d be unstoppable.