Curious Timeout vs Ohio State Showed Ben Johnson’s Coaching Genius

AP Photo: Jay LaPrete

Ben Johnson is in his second season on the job as Minnesota Gophers men’s head basketball coach and much of his early tenure has been difficult to watch. His overall record is well below .500 (20-25) and his 5-20 conference record will take years of success to work back to a respectable ratio.

But if you’re paying attention (many no longer are), you can see why AD Mark Coyle hired Ben Johnson. Let’s start with what happened last night, when the Gophers upset Ohio State, in Columbus, for their first Big Ten victory on the season.

Odd Timeout Shows Ben Johnson’s Coaching Genius

It was a nationally televised game (FS1) and Minnesota played with the lead for nearly the entire contest. It was their best overall performance so far this year. But in the final 38 seconds, they allowed the Buckeyes to go on a 5-0 run and tie the game with 8 seconds left.

The ball was inbounded to guard transfer, Ta’Lon Cooper, who quickly dribbled the ball past midcourt, went around a screen and into the near corner. Then, after a reverse cross-over through his legs broke some poor dude’s ankles (and confidence), Cooper set his GPS navigation for the rim.

When he reached his destination, he was fouled and sent to the line where one make would put the Gophers ahead with just 1.7 seconds remaining.

But there was a problem. Johnson’s Gophers had struggled at the line all night and Ta’Lon Cooper is a 51% free throw shooter. Coming over from Morehead State, these were possibly the biggest free throws of his life, too.

And when he missed the first, overtime felt inevitable.

— TIMEOUT —

I thought, for sure, it was Ohio State who called the timeout after Cooper missed his first free throw. Freezing shooters in that situation is commonplace at all levels of basketball. But then I realized it was Ben Johnson who called the TO. ‘Why would he freeze his own guy’, was my immediate thinking.

Lucky for me, FS1 had both head coaches mic’d up for the entire game. It’s a sports broadcast I’ve never seen before. Viewers got to hear everything the coaches said for two straight hours. During play and for every timeout. Even inside the locker room. We got to hear nearly every word that came out of both head coaches mouths from start to finish.

The unique approach by FS1 also allowed us insight into why Ben Johnson called such a strange timeout, after Ta’Lon Cooper missed that first free throw. This wasn’t a young coach making a weird mistake in a pressure packed situation.

“After you make it…”

Ben Johnson knew exactly what he was doing. His junior point guard needed some high level coaching and Johnson was up for the task. The mission: convince Cooper that his 2nd free throw was going in before he got back to the free throw line.

This win isn’t going to put the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament. In fact, there are going to be plenty of nights throughout the rest of this season that are hard to watch for Gopher fans.

Program in good hands

But for now, I still believe in the inexperienced Ben Johnson. His 2022-23 team continues to show noticeable improvement and, in his second season, the roster has more top in-state talent than any team under Richard Pitino.

The Gophers have also signed two McDonald’s All-American finalists, Dennis Evans (CA) and Cam Christie (IL), to this year’s recruiting class. Both guys could contribute immediately next season.

Roster Table
Player # Class Pos Height Weight Hometown High School RSCI Top 100 Summary
Dawson Garcia3SOF6-11230Prior Lake, MNPrior Lake HS35 (2020) 15.5 Pts, 6.7 Reb, 1.7 Ast
Ta’Lon Cooper55JRG6-4190Spartanburg, SCDorman (SC) 10.7 Pts, 4.3 Reb, 6.3 Ast
Jamison Battle10JRF6-7225Robbinsdale, MNDe la Salle HS 13.4 Pts, 3.9 Reb, 1.8 Ast
Pharrel Payne21FRF6-9255Cottage Grove, MNPark (MN) 7.7 Pts, 4.7 Reb, 1.1 Ast
Joshua Ola-Joseph1FRF6-7215Brooklyn Park, MNOsseo (MN); Compass Prep (AZ) 6.9 Pts, 2.6 Reb, 0.1 Ast
Braeden Carrington4FRG6-4195Brooklyn Park, MNPark Center (MN) 6.2 Pts, 4.2 Reb, 0.8 Ast
Jaden Henley24FRG6-7200Ontario, CAColony (CA) 3.9 Pts, 1.9 Reb, 0.9 Ast
Taurus Samuels0SRG6-0175Oceanside, CAVista HS 2.6 Pts, 1.5 Reb, 1.3 Ast
Treyton Thompson42SOC6-11190Glenwood, MNLa Lumiere School 1.8 Pts, 2.2 Reb, 0.8 Ast
Will Ramberg25JRG6-5195Grand Marais, MNCook County (MN) 1.5 Pts, 3.3 Reb, 0.3 Ast
Jackson Purcell11FRG6-5175Apple Valley, MNEastview HS 0.0 Pts, 0.0 Reb, 0.0 Ast
Kadyn Betts15FRF6-8
Parker Fox23JRF6-8
Isaiah Ihnen5JRF6-9
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/13/2023.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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