By Kierstin Lindkvist
No. 14 seed Minnesota survived and advanced in a fight-to-the-finish victory against Nebraska — this paired with Ohio State’s victory over Wisconsin marks the second time the No. 13 and No. 14 seeds advanced in the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. The only other time was in 2017, when No. 13 Penn State and No. 14 Rutgers advanced to the second round in Washington, D.C.
Golden Gophers head coach Ben Johnson credits the team’s mental and physical resolve for getting the outcome they did, but he thinks he came up short for his team.
“I was probably 0-for-3 on coaching decisions in this one,” he said. “I was 0-for-3 but 3-for-3 because luckily none of them burned us. It’s been a battle all three times we’ve played them. That’s what it takes to win at this level and in this tournament.”
No.13 Ohio State Buckeyes will have a tough matchup against No.5 Iowa Hawkeyes, but No. 14 seed Minnesota (2-17 in the Big Ten) will have a harder head-to-head matchup against the Maryland Terrapins, whom they lost to twice this year in regular season play — including a devastating 81-46 blowout at Williams Arena.
“It’s going to be a very, very tough game for us, so we’ve got to go back to the hotel and really have a phenomenal game plan to be successful,” Johnson said. “I’ll tell you what, it’s better than the alternative.”
Ta’lon Cooper also had 16 points and 12 assists — playing the full 40 minutes and creating opportunities for his teammates to score.
“If you come in every day, pay attention to details, follow what the coach is telling you, what their defensive plan is, defensive scheme, it works for a win,” Cooper said.
Sophomore Dawson Garcia led the team with 18 points and added a game-high 13 rebounds for his third double-double on the season.
“We know we’re playing good basketball right now, so we know it’s not a fluke. I know for a fact nobody’s, like, satisfied in the locker room or anything like that,” Garcia said.
Starting forward Jamison Battle had 13 points, eight rebounds and three assists but drew fouls early and often throughout the game. With 9:01 remaining in the second half, the Gopher fouled out of the game.
Johnson’s self-proclaimed second coaching error came when he argued against the call against Battle — earning himself a technical foul.
“I put myself in (Battle’s) shoes in that minute and said, ‘You know what, he’s given a lot to this school,’” Johnson said. “Sometimes you’ve got to let it rip and let it ride.”
The Golden Gophers had 25 assists in the first 36 minutes — a single-game program record for the tournament — but in the end, Johnson said his final mistake came at the free-throw line.
With one second left, Jaden Henley made his second free throw, putting the Gophers ahead by three points and allowing the Huskers the opportunity to inbound and throw up a make-it-or-break-it shot to send the game into overtime.
“I knew with (Nebraska’s Kesei) Tominaga in the game that there’s a chance he’s going to throw something in, and it’s going to look good,” Johnson said. “I debated in the timeout whether to have Jaden miss it, and I’m yelling at him to miss it and he didn’t, so I’m thinking that was dumb not to make sure that we missed that free throw.”