Gophers game vs. Alcorn State canceled because of travel issues

The last thing Ben Johnson wanted for his Gophers men's basketball team was to have more time off after it had picked up some momentum before Big Ten play, but it was out of his control.

Thursday's game against 3-9 Alcorn State was canceled due to travel-related complications with the opposing team's flight due to weather. That means 12 days between games.

The Gophers (6-6) found out officially Wednesday morning that they wouldn't have a final tune-up in nonconference play before the Big Ten schedule resumes Jan. 3 at rival Wisconsin.

"Obviously, you feel bad for our guys," Johnson said by phone Wednesday. "You only get so many games a year. If you're never able to play one, it always hurts. Our fans were looking forward to coming out and supporting. So, you feel bad for that. All we can do now is move forward."

Johnson's squad bounced back after a five-game losing streak to win consecutive home games vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff 72-56 and Chicago State 58-55. They returned to practice twice on Wednesday after time off for Christmas with their families.

The early Big Ten slate started in December for the Gophers with blowout losses to Purdue 89-70 on the road and Michigan 90-75 at home. They're 0-5 this season against major conference opponents, which includes falling to DePaul, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State.

Struggling to be competitive against their tougher opponents came down to issues on both ends of the floor. The Gophers ranked 14th in scoring offense (63.4) and 12th in scoring defense (66.8) among Big Ten teams as of Wednesday. Their fourth game this season scoring fewer than 60 points came in the Dec. 22 win against Chicago State, but Johnson noticed better team chemistry in the last couple weeks.

All-Big Ten preseason forward Jamison Battle missed the first four games of the season with a foot injury. Other players suffered through health issues, including transfer Dawson Garcia, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, losing over 20 pounds with the flu. But Johnson said the team is the healthiest it's been, which has helped players practice together.

The four freshmen in the rotation have also gained enough experience now where the Gophers expect more consistency from them during the bulk of the Big Ten season ahead.

"The area that we've improved is we're understanding each other more and more," Johnson added. "We had a stretch where guys were battling some things and were in and out. Now we're approaching full strength again. So now the improvement is we're starting to gel and figure it out."

The Badgers, who are ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll, had their Dec. 23 game vs. Grambling State canceled due to the weather. But they're still scheduled to play Friday vs. Western Michigan at the Kohl Center in Madison.

The Gophers had their game against Alcorn State canceled and not rescheduled for the second straight season. Last year, the Braves decided not to play at the Barn in late December after COVID-19 issues within their program. The Gophers went from three straight wins to starting Big Ten play in January with four straight losses, so they'll be hoping to avoid the same fate this time around.

"When you win, you want to keep playing," Johnson said. "Guys were excited to get back on the court and put forth the effort to try to get another win. Now that's just delayed a couple more days. Our focus will remain the same."