Gophers MBB Grabs Another Early Season Big Ten Win vs Maryland

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Minnesota
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

How low were expectations for Ben Johnson’s 2023-24 Minnesota Golden Gophers entering the season? I mean… how low can expectations get, because this team’s were in the basement.

But it was pretty clear early on that, after two really difficult seasons to start his head coaching career in Dinkytown, Johnson’s squad this season was different. They were bigger, faster, stronger, more talented… and most of all, better shooters than what we had seen in years one and two.

Related: Can 2023-24 Minnesota Gophers Make the NCAA Tournament?

Minnesota Gophers beat Maryland Terrapins

Last week, after returning from Christmas break, the Gophers went to Ann Arbor and upset Michigan to move to 2-1 in Big Ten play. On Sunday night the Gophers welcomed the Maryland Terrapins to The Barn and, after falling behind early, found their footing and won another close one, 65-62, moving them to 12-3 on the season and 3-1 in the Big Ten.

Just like in Ann Arbor, Sunday’s win was a team effort. No Gopher finished with more than 12 points but six Gophers scored 8 points or more and four finished in double figures. Elijah Hawkins could prove as one of the most important transfer portal pickups of Ben’s coaching tenure.

He had 9 assists tonight and hit multiple big shots down the stretch, scoring 10 points in total. But it’s his peskiness on defense (6 steals) that jumps off the boxscore. No doubt, he was the game’s MVP. You could say the same thing about their season, even after Hawkins struggled to find his place early on.

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It’s their 7th-straight victory and 3rd conference win in just four tries. For context, they won two Big Ten games all of last season. Prior to Sunday’s victory, Minnesota had climbed to #88 in the NET Rankings prior to tonight’s game, the biggest determining factor in whether or not a team makes the NCAA Tournament.

That should climb quite a few spots, after the victory. It’s been quite the climb for a team that started at #157 when those rankings debuted on December 4. Last season, they finished #222.

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