Men’s basketball: Gophers coach Ben Johnson still trying to set the tone

The Gophers (7-9, 1-5 Big Ten) will take on conference-leading and third-ranked Purdue (17-1, 6-1) on Thursday at Williams Arena.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Ohio State
Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Ben Johnson during the first half Jan. 12, 2023, against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio.
Joseph Maiorana / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- University of Minnesota men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson is treading the razor’s edge between highlighting his team’s failures and crushing its confidence, which was at a season high after the team’s first Big Ten win, Jan. 12 at Ohio State.

Since then, however, was a 78-60 loss to Illinois that required some real talk from the coach.

“It’s a fine line,” Johnson said Wednesday. “But I think we have a mature group and they want to be coached and they want to win. Now, it’s setting the tone for everything that goes into winning.”

Johnson went into the unacceptable elements of Monday’s loss and why there were those breakdowns.

“You’ve got to remember the plays,” he said. “You’ve got to remember an action. … It could be defensive assignments. By this time of year, you’ve got to know the defensive assignment.


“Why didn’t you know it? Was it not communicated from staff to player? If it was communicated, where was the lapse? Just trying to figure out the answers to that. Those are the things that will drive anyone crazy.”

The Gophers (7-9, 1-5 Big Ten) will look to rectify such issues against conference-leading and third-ranked Purdue (17-1, 6-1) on Thursday at Williams Arena. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.

On top of execution against the Illini, another inexcusable element was a lack of energy.

“We just weren't there,” forward Josh Ola-Joseph said. “Low energy. I feel like we’ve got to do some more self-digging for certain players, including myself, to bring it every time we are on the floor.”

The Gophers (9-12 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) led only once, 2-0, on a layup by Rose Micheaux in the game’s first 16 seconds.
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Johnson said it was important for players to hear from him as the Illini went on a 41-17 run over 16 minutes at the Barn on Monday. But veteran leaders need to do their part, too.

“It’s important for older guys like myself to make sure the group is staying together and not letting us slip apart from each other,” said senior co-captain Taurus Samuels.

Battle OK?

Jamison Battle left the Illini game late in the second half with a back injury. The team didn’t practice Tuesday, and Johnson said he wouldn’t know more about whether Battle would be able to play Purdue until after practice Wednesday.


“It’s just when contact comes into play, how does it hold up?” Johnson said. “… We’ll see how it pans out. I know he wants to play, but we won’t know until we get some five on five.”

Enormous Edey

Purdue center Zach Edey, the frontrunner for Big Ten player of the year, is coming off a career-high 32 points in the Boilermakers’ 64-63 win over Michigan State on Monday. It was one more point than his previous-best 31 in their 89-70 win over Minnesota on Dec. 4.

The 7-foot-4, 285-pound Edey took 26 shots against the Spartans and 23 against Minnesota. Johnson’s goal will be to make it challenging for Edey to get the ball in his comfort zone, and to be smart when and where they bring double teams. A goal would be to contain his shots to, say, fewer than 20.


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