Gopher MBB Shocks Michigan in Ann Arbor; Moves to 8-1 on Season

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Many NCAA men’s basketball experts, both across the country and locally, weren’t sure if the Minnesota Gophers, under new head coach Ben Johnson, would win a game during Big Ten conference play in the 2021-22 season. Well, it took two games for those critics to be proven wrong.

On Saturday night, Johnson’s newly-formed Gophers went into Ann Arbor as 13.5 point underdogs and beat the Michigan Wolverines outright 75-65. It was their first win at the Crisler Center since 2011 and moved Minnesota to 8-1 (1-1) on the season. The victory should guarantee them a top-25 ranking when the new polls release on Monday around noon.

How it happened

The Gophers did it behind more great play from Jamison Battle (25 pts, 7 reb) and Payton Willis (17 pts, 5 reb), who currently look like two of the biggest transfer gets in Gopher basketball history. Whenever Minnesota needed a basket on Saturday night, they turned to these two guys.

While it was Battle and Willis who hit big shot after big shot in the second half to build and maintain the Minnesota lead, the entire starting five contributed in big ways. Ways that showed up in the box score and ways that didn’t.

All starters except for Eric Curry scored in double figures and all eight Gopher contributors worked to rebound against a much bigger and taller Wolverines front court. At 7’1″, the 2020-21 All-American Hunter Dickinson towered over every Minnesota player that took the court. He still posted his standard double-double (19 pts, 10 reb) but he had to work for it and was often frustrated, especially during the second half.

The undersized Gophers even stuck with the Wolverines on the glass, which was a big area of concern for Ben Johnson entering the season. Juwan Howard had a clear goal on offense to get the ball inside, where he thought Michigan could take advantage of their size advantage. In theory, the strategy was sound. But Ben Johnson’s Golden Gophers were ready.

What’s next?

Early Big Ten play is now over and the Minnesota Gophers finished 1-1 against both of Michigan’s Big Ten teams. Now 8-1, Minnesota will take a three-week break from conference play, which will resume after the new year. Their schedule for the rest of December is nothing but home games and their opponents are small schools like Texas A&M-CC (8-1), Green Bay (1-7) and Alcorn State (1-7).

As long as they can avoid letdown over the next three games, Minnesota should be 11-1 and entrenched in the top-25 when conference play starts back up vs Illinois on January 2.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan