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Men’s basketball: Gophers start strong but can’t finish in 60-56 loss to Michigan

Minnesota gave itself ‘a chance,’ coach Ben Johnson said, but foul trouble for leading scorer Dawson Garcia was an issue

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Michigan
Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Ta'lon Cooper (55) dribbles past Michigan Wolverines guard Kobe Bufkin (2) in the second half Sunday at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Rick Osentoski / USA Today Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team returned Sunday to where they created the top highlight of Ben Johnson’s first season as head coach a year ago.

Minnesota beat Michigan at Crisler Center in December 2021, the Gophers’ only Big Ten road win last season. The Gophers had held a rare shootaround the night before that game, so they made for a repeat visit to the Wolverines’ arena on Saturday night.

Leaning into some superstition while getting ready for an earlier noon tipoff Sunday, the Gophers started the game strong but couldn’t recreate last year’s jolt, losing 60-56 to Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Gophers (7-11, 1-7 Big Ten) have lost five their past six games, but after not being competitive against Illinois and Purdue last week, they put up a fight against the Wolverines (11-8, 5-3).

“When you play like that, you give yourself a chance,” Johnson said. “When you compete like that, you give yourself a chance. When you defend like that, you give yourself a chance. When you are connected like that as a team and you put it all out there, you give yourself a chance.”

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Minnesota led 20-10 in the first half, and cut the Wolverines’ lead to 55-52 with less than a minute to play. But Jamison Battle’s unnecessary intentional foul on Will Tschetter of Stewartville, Minn., gave the Wolverines two free throws. Minnesota forced a turnover on Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, but Battle couldn’t make an open 3-pointer.

Dickinson led all scorers with 23 points and added nine rebounds. He was able to attack more freely in the post as defender Dawson Garcia dealt with foul trouble for much of the game and was wary of getting whistled more. He also suffered a non-contact injury with eight minutes left. The Gophers’ top scorer quickly returned but was hobbled and didn’t finish the game.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Michigan
Michigan guard Jett Howard (13) shoots over Minnesota's Joshua Ola-Joseph in the first half Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.
Rick Osentoski / USA Today Sports

The Wolverines lost Jett Howard, their best shooter and second-leading scorer, to an ankle injury in the first half.

Without Garcia, Minnesota’s offense struggled, just as it did when the Gophers managed only 39 points against Purdue, the program’s lowest output in a game since a 32-26 loss at Indiana in 1951. Garcia dealt with foul trouble against the Boilermakers, as well.

Johnson liked the Gophers’ shot attempts without Garcia in the game Sunday. Battle, who was held scoreless in the 61-39 loss to Purdue on Thursday, finished with 14 points. Ta’Lon Cooper led Minnesota with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“We don’t need to get away from ourselves when a Dawson or a Jamison might be out, we’ve just got to stay within what we are doing — still be able to attack and play downhill and get that ball inside out.” Johnson said.

Garcia picked up his second foul and exited with nine minutes left in the first half. Minnesota then went scoreless for the next 7:25, and scored only three more points before halftime. The U shot 1 of 13 from the field in the last 10 minutes of the first half; Michigan finished the half on a 13-3 run to make it 23-23 at the break.

MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
The loss was the 2nd straight by a 35-point margin
Minnesota has lost 6 straight games, one behind the 7 consecutive defeats Richard Pitino’s last team at Minnesota suffered in February-March 2021.
The Gophers have lost two in a row and six of seven overall.
Center Trey Thompson broke his nose at Northwestern but plans to play Wednesday vs. Rutgers
And why shouldn’t she? Indiana brings a 20-1 record and No. 4 national ranking into Wednesday’s game at the Barn
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.
After an 81-61 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, Minnesota is 1-9 in Big Ten play with 10 games remaining
Junior wing who led Minnesota in scoring last season has struggled offensively at times this season
With two more players unavailable Wednesday, the Gophers had roughly half that roster max against Indiana at Williams Arena.
Minnesota is the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation, making a woeful 59.3% this year to rank 352 out of 352 Division I programs.

Minnesota contributed to the Wolverines shooting 37 percent from the field Sunday and were nearly even on the boards, but the Gophers had five more turnovers than Michigan.

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The Gophers gave themselves a “chance,” which was more than they could say for the previous two games last week.

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