Just hours after facing questions about the sudden resignation of Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Wallen, athletics director Mark Quayle took his usual seat a few rows from the bench for Thursday’s men’s basketball game at Williams Arena.
Coyle, a regular at home games, listened in postgame news conferences all season as Gophers’ second-year head coach Ben Johnson spoke about the injuries and inexperience that contributed to Leo’s longest losing streak in seven years.
The Gophers could have quit while down 10 points with just over a minute left, but they ended their 12-game slide with a Jamison Battle three-pointer in a 75-74 win over Rutgers at the Barn.
“That was [tough] Today,” Coyle said after the game. But a great win. “
The Gophers (8-20, 2-16 Big Ten) saw Battle score 15 of his 20 points in the second half on 5-for-9 shooting from outside the arc. Three of his six shots came in the last 22 seconds, including one that gave the team its first home win of the season.
“Sometimes life isn’t always fair,” Johnson said. “But that doesn’t mean you can stop. … This is an example for all our guys who needed to keep showing up. If you keep showing up, you never know what can happen.”
After Caleb McConnell’s missed throw with five seconds left to play, Ta’Lon Cooper spun the ball to the ground before catching it to start the clock on a final play. Cooper drove the pass and kicked the ball into the fray. The young striker took a step back to free himself from Rutgers’ Cam Spencer before hooking up the clutch.
Officials spent more than 10 minutes after time expired trying to see if Cooper’s leg had touched the ball that would have started the clock earlier. Fans erupted when the waiting game was over. Good bucket.
“It was something to dream about,” Patel said. “I think it’s just consistent with all the work we’ve done, that you’ve put in. It’s just the reward for that work. It feels good.”
The Gophers team that suffered a 90-55 loss on Feb. 1 in Piscataway, NJ, was a lot different than the one that showed up on Thursday. Fans saw glimpses of the team’s potential.
The highlight came early in the night when Dawson Garcia connected with Pharrel Payne for an alley dunk in the first inning. Garcia and Payne, who combined for 34 points and 17 rebounds, looked like the frontcourt for Johnson of the future, especially with superstar Dennis Evans firing off his LOI recently.
“We show up every day, we fight every day,” García said. “Seeing it come to fruition firsthand is an amazing feeling. We’ll feel it that much more.”
In the second half, Rutgers outscored the Gophers 10-3 to take a 50-36 lead on a layup reverse from Cliff Omoroi, who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. The Gophers gave up 17 second chance points on 15 offensive boards.
With three minutes left in the game, Braeden Carrington came off the floor after Omoruyi was sunk after another offensive plate by the Scarlet Knights. He watched from the bench as his teammates continued to fight back.
Whalen texted Johnson after the game to congratulate him on his last-second victory. “She came to work every day,” Johnson said. “She is one of the most positive people around.”
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