The Gophers men’s basketball team passed its first test of the season against a high-major conference opponent at Williams Arena on Tuesday, and then serendipitously gathered in a unique spot deep inside The Barn.
After Minnesota was pushed to overtime but beat Boston College 85-80 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, coach Richard Pitino gave his postgame speech in the training room because that’s where players flocked after forward Brandon Johnson retreated there with his late-game injury.
“I’ve never done that before,” Pitino said. “That’s nice to see that there is that care and that love for each other when somebody goes down. It was a really cool moment.”
Minnesota (5-0) was an eight-point favorite, but needed to rally from a 15-point deficit early in the second half against Boston College (1-4), which was picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC.
As he routinely has, point guard Marcus Carr led Minnesota with 22 points, including 11 in the second half and nine in overtime. The leader gave a small fist pump when the final buzzer sounded.
Moments earlier, Johnson injured his left ankle and needed assistance getting into the locker room and teammates Jarvis Omersa and Martice Mitchell helped him there. “He looked like he was in pain,” Pitino said. “Knock on wood that it’s not serious. I have no idea.”
But Isaiah Ihnen had previously taken nearly all the minutes in overtime, showing Pitino’s early-season rotations are fluctuating. That’s also apparent with sophomores Isaiah Ihnen, Tre’ Williams and freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. and that will grow after the trio helped provide a spark when the U trailed big in the second half.
Up one at the half, Boston College started the second on a 21-7 rush, but with those youngsters, Minnesota responded with a 16-0 run to retake the lead with nine minutes left.
“They absolutely came in and brought some life, and that’s what embracing your role is all about,” Pitino said. “Everybody wants to play major minutes and we are constantly talking about everything we do is for Minnesota. They came in and brought unbelievable selfless energy and obviously had a huge run.”
Mashburn had his best game of his short career with 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in 14 minutes. Williams chipped in six points, two rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes. Ihnen added six points, four rebounds, two assist and no turnovers in 24 minutes.
After those scoring fluctuations, it tightened up down the stretch in regulation as ties followed the score in the 60s. Liam Robbins two free throws gave Minnesota a 70-68 lead. Gach, who is alleviating Carr in clutch spots this season, chipped in strong offense and defense in the end; he finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
After Ihnen missed two free throws, Boston College’s Makai Ashton-Langford’s layup tied the game at 70 with five seconds left of regulation and Carr’s deep, desperation 3-pointer missed to force overtime.
The Gophers got contributions from many players over 45 minutes before they went to check on one of their own.
“It wasn’t weird,” Williams said. “It was really the players’ decision. We went down to the training room because Brandon was down there. He was shaken up with an ankle injury. We didn’t want to leave him out of the postgame speech, so we told Coach P to let us have it in the training room, so he could be included.”